Many laboratories that are interested in the study of physiological cell processes employ live cell culture and imaging techniques. There are currently two main systems available for basic, non-flow, live cell imaging: enclosed chamber systems that mount directly on top of a microscope stage and cage incubator systems that encase a large part of the microscope.
One of the main advantages of a caged incubator compared to enclosed chamber system is the fact that the microscope objectives are warmed to the cage incubator temperature. In an enclosed chamber system, which usually lacks thermal regulation of the objectives, the temperature differential between the chamber and objectives can cause substantial fogging and result in poor quality, blurry image acquisition. A further advantage of a caged incubator system is the ability to grow cells in standard cell culture dishes that can subsequently be transferred to the microscope for the duration of the experiment. For example, we grow cells in 12-well or 24-well plates, which allows us to examine multiple conditions within the same experiment. In contrast, most enclosed chamber systems require the growth of cells within the experimental chamber itself and as such allow only one live cell experiment to be monitored at a time.
We have been using a caged incubator system from Okolab for the past 4 years. Since all microscope setups are unique, the system was custom built for our specific requirements. The unit shipped from Italy and came with comprehensive instructions for the assembly of all the components. I estimate it took about 3 hours to get to the point of everything being assembled and the cage incubator set up and ready to run on our microscope system.
The control unit allows the mixing of air and CO2 at defined ratios (typically 95% air/5% CO2), which in turn is humidified through a water-filled column and fed into the chamber that holds the cell culture plate. Furthermore, the control unit monitors and adjusts the pre-defined temperature of the chamber by means of a fine gauge thermocouple. In our hands, the cage incubator performs very well in overnight experiments and incubated cells remain viable, healthy, and exhibit normal cell division.
Okolabs’ customer support is excellent. We recently had a malfunction with the fine gauge thermocouple. However, an e-mail to Okolab quickly got the issue resolved and a replacement sensor was immediately sent to us from Italy, which arrived in a matter of days. Overall, we have been extremely happy with the performance of our Okolab cage incubator system.
CO2 Microscope Cage Incubator for Live Cell Imaging from Okolab
Easy to use once setup; entire microscope is caged; excellent thermal regulation; integration of air, temp and humidity control; excellent customer service.
Relatively expensive; requires significant assembly.
The Bottom Line
The control unit regulates the environment of the cage incubator within strict pre-defined parameters and cells remain viable and actively dividing. Overall, the Okolab range of customized CO<sub>2</sub> cage incubators provide an excellent means to study long-term live cell cultures.