Hutch News

Rivera invents way to keep antibody medium spinning

April 5, 2001
Jose Rivera

Jose Rivera, the Center's biomedical engineer, displays the roller-bottle incubator that he re-engineered by embedding a motor and gear-and-chain system.

Photo by Clay Eals

If you're incubating cells to produce monoclonal antibodies, one way to make sure they get plenty of nutrients is to keep stirring the medium in which they're growing.

And a Hutch facilities engineer has helped keep them whirring.

Dr. Jefferson Foote's lab in the Human Biology Division recently acquired a roller-bottle incubator, a device that keeps tissue culture bottles moving like hotdogs on a convenience-store grill - and thereby keeps their contents stirred.

Foote got the device from a Swiss manufacturer but spotted trouble right away.

"The broken roller system was a futuristic design by engineers who apparently had been laid off from a watch company," he said. "They had a very ingenious and totally impractical system of gears and a tiny electric motor that fit inside each roller.

"Unfortunately, the motor had about the same horsepower as a watch motor. It couldn't drive a full rack of tissue culture bottles, and the three units in our incubator all burned out."

Enter Jose Rivera, the Center's biomedical engineer, who repairs research equipment and other electronic devices. Actually, Foote's roller-bottle incubator needed more than repair. It needed re-engineering, which is what Rivera did.

"Jose's solution was to embed a reasonably powerful motor in the back wall of the incubator and to turn the rollers with a gear and chain system," Foote said in a note to Rivera's boss, Robert Cowan, manager of Facilities Engineering. "It works great!"

Rivera is a bit chagrined by any fuss his work engendered. "The thing is," he said, "I've done other projects like that, where you reinvent something," he says.

He added, however, that he enjoys doing such projects. "It's nice to look at the finished project and think, 'I did that'," he said.

Rivera came to the Hutch in 1993. Born in Puerto Rico, he entered the military and was discharged in Florida, staying there and working as a roofer.

In 1992 he came to Seattle. He did construction, then went to work for Nintendo on game boxes, "which was actually pretty boring," he says.

Evenings he went to ITT Technical Institute, earning an associate degree in electronic engineering in 1995.

Now, he says, he's worked at the Hutch longer than he ever worked anywhere else.

Besides repairing and occasionally "reinventing" biomedical equipment, he works the rotating weekend shifts and quick calls that all Hutch operating engineers work, manning the boilers and responding to alarms on vital equipment such as bone-marrow freezers.

Which is, he says, why he's stayed.

"My job is pretty broad here. The work is interesting, and it's not always the same."

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