Cell–based research today is an area of intense interest for the life science and pharmaceutical industries. It provides a useful and viable tool for many scientists, allowing in-depth study of cellular and molecular interactions using a model that is highly representative of in vivo conditions. The methodologies and associated technologies, however, are under constant review and development, in order to establish the best system possible for cell culture and analysis.
Cell culture itself is not a new phenomenon; it has been utilized by many scientists with varying degrees of success for the past 60 years. These days demands for the guaranteed quality and consistency of cell cultures top the agenda.
With numerous parameters that often vary depending on the cell type, these demands remain a daily challenge for the cell biologist. In this article, we look at the practical requirements of cell culture, and the benefits that ready-made optimized culture systems can bring to a number of applications.
Successful mammalian cell culture requires the careful control of variables. Cells may require different media formulations and additives depending on their individual physiology and growth requirements. In addition, correct gaseous concentrations of O2 and CO2 are required for normal cell metabolism and the efficient maintenance of media pH.
The preferred format for adherent and nonadherent cell growth and expansion will also differ; growth can occur on a solid surface, which in itself may be modified for optimal cell adhesion and growth, or in suspension in a liquid medium.
Lastly, any microbial contamination introduced during the culture process can have a significant impact, not only on cell viability and phenotype but also on the subsequent data collected from downstream experimentation. Such errors are costly; thus tight control of these parameters is essential.
Obviously, experimental best practice plays an important role since any deviation from set protocols can increase the likelihood of operator error and subsequent contamination of cultures. Media consumption can, of course, present a significant cost to a laboratory. When expanding cells for large-scale experimentation, media replacement—or feeding—can prove time consuming, and its extra step risks the introduction of contamination.
Furthermore, large amounts of cells necessitate an increasing number of flasks and incubation space for expansion. As the use of cell-based assays has steadily grown for screening applications, these demands have become commonplace, and the number of cells needed for any one experiment has greatly increased.
Thus, there has not only been a drive to develop techniques for large-scale expansion, but also for a solution that can be used in an automated set-up. Traditional culture vessels and flasks do not always lend themselves to use with automation.
Also, as they are not hermetically closed containers, they can allow the evaporation of media, which can greatly impact pH and cell viability. They also require the stringent control of gaseous O2 and CO2 and, with careless handling and splashing of the seals, allow contaminants to enter culture media.