Most researchers in the biomedical field will be familiar with the use of biosafety cabinets (BSCs) and incubators. BSCs operate on continuous airflow and are an excellent choice for sterile biological work. Incubators that are able to provide a consistent environment such as specific temperature and gas levels are optimal equipment for cell culture. What if the experiments require biological samples to be handled in a sterile and controlled environment? That is when glove boxes can become very useful.
What are gloves boxes?
Glove boxes are enclosed, self-contained chambers that are able to provide a sterile environment for handling biological samples, including microorganisms and mammalian cells. Glove boxes are usually equipped with other modules for controlling the chamber environment such as temperature and humidity. Most can also function as mobile workstations to transport samples while minimizing biological perturbations that can affect experimental interpretations. As a result of these unique advantages, the use of glove boxes is becoming more popular. Here are some factors to consider when using them for cell culture applications.
Manipulate environmental conditions
Glove boxes are very useful tools to study the effects of modulating environmental conditions on cells and tissues. Their most widely used application is the study of hypoxia—a physiological condition of lower than normal oxygen level. The effects of hypoxia have become an important parameter to study in stroke research, as stroke reduces or terminates oxygen flow to the brain, with adverse consequences like paralysis. Hypoxia is also an important variable in cancer research, as a hypoxic tumor microenvironment can inhibit infiltration and cytotoxic functions of immune cells. The use of glove boxes is ideal as it can provide a controlled oxygen environment to increase experimental reproducibility to study challenging diseases.
To tap into this advantage of glove boxes, it is important to check that they can be equipped with programmable environmental units or modules to provide the desired experimental conditions during purchase.
Most glove boxes are designed to protect the biological samples in the chamber from external contaminants. This helps to maintain sterility and is sufficient to handle biological samples that are not harmful when leaked. These are generally referred to as isolation-type glove boxes and they have basic functions, including filtered air systems to provide sterile air and ultraviolet radiation systems to perform disinfection. It is, however, important to check that the materials of the glove box are able to contain the UV rays, which are harmful.
When experiments involve potential infectious agents, glove boxes must be equipped with additional modules such as valve actuation, airflow management, and an airlock system to protect users. These are referred to as containment-type glove boxes. For users who may need to transport biological samples regardless of the hazard level, this type of glove box is highly recommended.
Many companies are also providing customized glove boxes with different modular units to control different environmental conditions. Besides research with mammalian cell culture, glove boxes that can provide an anaerobic environment are increasingly being used for microbiology research such as for biofuel applications. This versatile tool is expected to become more popular in the lab.