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cultured cells: An Ex-Cell-ent Research Partner

by | Dec 6, 2023 | Drug Manufacturing

Researchers depend heavily on cultured cells—cells grown in a laboratory under controlled conditions—to discover, develop, and manufacture biologics. 

Tricky Terms

  • Primary Cells are cells taken directly from human or animal tissue and cultured in a lab. 
  • Cell Lines are cells grown in culture for at least one generation. Some cell lines can only be grown in culture for a certain amount of time, while others are immortal, meaning they grow indefinitely. 
  • Growth Medium is a mixture of nutrients cells live in and feed on.  Nutrients include amino acids, carbohydrates, salts, vitamins, minerals, and sometimes growth factors and hormones.
  • Adherent Cultures are cells that attach themselves to surfaces such as the bottom of a flask to grow.
  • Suspension Cultures are cells that grow in the entire volume of the medium. 

Never Say Die

 In 1951, oncologist George Gey successfully cultured cells using cervical tumor tissue from patient Henrietta Lacks. The result was the first line of immortal human cells, called HeLa cells, which became vital for biomedical research. Cancer cells make immortal cell lines because of their abnormal ability to grow and survive. Other types of cells can be “transformed” into immortal lines by adding genes that affect their growth. Some examples include Jurkat or HL-60 (white blood cells), MCF-7 (breast cancer), Saos-2 cells (bone cancer), PC3 (prostate cancer), and HepG2 (Liver cancer).

Cell Line Hit Parade

  • The NCI-60 Screen uses 60 different types of human cancer cells, including leukemia, breast cancer, and melanoma, to identify and characterize novel compounds that stop the growth of tumor cells.
  • Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cell lines are a model mammalian cell line used to study how influenza viruses function and cause sickness in people.

Certain cell lines, such as Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, Human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells, and Spodoptera frugiperda (Sf9) cells, are used as mini “factories” to manufacture biologics such as monoclonal antibodies.

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Safety First

When working with cell lines it is vital to follow biosafety guidelines to keep both you and the cell lines safe from contamination. Take Biotech Primer’s 55-minute on-demand Laboratory Worker Biosafety Primer and put safety first.

Cocktail Fodder

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the suitability of commonly used cell lines for isolating viruses and diagnosing related diseases in the context of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.  One such cell line, MDCK cells, used for surveillance and studying influenza viruses, were not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Eventually, researchers found monkey kidney cell lines to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Identifying a suitable cell line to study SARS-CoV-2 was one of many challenges the scientific community encountered in the early days of the pandemic.

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