Journal of Membrane Science, Vol.548, 598-608, 2018
Determination of pore size gradients of virus filtration membranes using gold nanoparticles and their relation to fouling with protein containing feed streams
Virus filtration membranes contribute to the virus safety of biopharmaceutical drugs due to their capability to retain virus particles mainly based on size-exclusion mechanisms. Typical product molecules like monoclonal antibodies with 9-12 nm in hydrodynamic diameter have to be transmitted by >95% while small viruses, e.g. parvoviridae (B19, MVM, PPV) with a diameter of 18-26 nm, have to be retained by at least 99.99%. Therefore, membrane fouling caused by product aggregates, which are similar in size compared to the viruses that have to be retained, is a common observation. Minimal membrane fouling is a requirement for economical processes and is influenced by both the membrane surface chemistry and the membrane structure, particularly with regard to the pore size gradient (PSG). In this work, virus filtration membranes were challenged with gold nanoparticles (GNPs) in order to determine PSGs for a wide range of different commercial and non-commercial parvovirus retentive membranes differing in structure, material and surface chemistry. GNP adsorption to the membrane material was suppressed by the use of an anionic surfactant, allowing to gain insights into size-exclusion properties of the membranes. Membrane performance with regard to fouling was further investigated by determination of protein mass throughputs up-to a defined membrane flux decay using solutions containing intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) as model protein. Additionally, the fouling mechanism of IVIG was investigated and confirmed to be caused by trace amounts of species larger than IVIG monomers and dimers, which were already present in the feed. The fouling results are discussed in relationship to the determined PSGs, since the porous support structure of virus filtration membranes can act as a depth pre-filter protecting the separation-active layer from particulate foulants.