What is Cell Culture?

cell-culture-what-is-cell-cultureA single cell is the building block for human life. The genetic material of each cell in the human body – itself composed of 100 trillion cells – holds the secret to inherited diseases, such as Tay Sachs, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other complex diseases like heart disease. Tissue culture was first developed in the early 1900’s as a method for studying the behavior of cells – free of the variations that might arise in the whole organism –  in reponse to normal and induced experimental stress. Initially, scientists used fragments of tissues, but gradually developed techniques to study the behavior of single cells and changed the name to cell culture.

In its simplest form, cell culture involves the dispersal of cells in an artificial environment composed of nutrient solutions, a suitable surface to support the growth of cells, and ideal conditions of temperature, humidity, and gaseous atmosphere. In such a system, a researcher can precisely measure the response of the cell’s alterations in culture, prospective drugs, the presence or absence of other kinds of cells, carcinogenic agents, and viruses.

Cell cultures and DNA can be established from blood or small fragments of tissue (biopsies). Lymphocytes (white blood cells) can be immortalized with Epstein-Barr virus and then replicated indefinitely in culture medium. Fibroblasts (cells from a skin biopsy) can be used to establish a cell line, though their growth in culture medium is time-limited. The staff in the Coriell Cell Repositories establishes cultures from both blood and skin, and these cells are maintained at the Institute, ready to be sent to any investigator interested in studying disease processes.

History of Cell Culture

1907- Frog embryo nerve fiber outgrowth by Harrison.
1912- Explants of chick embryo tissues by Carrel, Burrows.
1943- Development of mouse lymphocyte cell line by Earle, et al.
1948- First use of antibiotics in tissue culture by Keilova.
1949- Growth of virus in cell culture by Enders, et al.
1952- Polio virus grown in monkey kidney cells by Kew, et al.
1952- Development of HeLa cell line by Gey, et al.
1955- Development of defined cell culture media by Eagle.
1958- Recognition of importance of mycoplasma by Coriell.
1961- Demonstration of the finite lifespan of normal human cells by Hayflick and Moorhead.
1964- Discovery of pluripotency of embryonic stem cells by Kleinsmith and Pierce.
1970- Development of laminar flow cabinets for cell culture, Kruse et al.
1976- Totipotency of embryonic stem cells described by Illmensee and Mintz.
1977- Cross-contamination of many cell lines with HeLa cells confirmed, Nelson-Rees & Glandermeyer.
1983- Regulation of cell cycle and cycling reported by many.
1983- Development of reconstituted cell cultures by Bell and others.
1989- Transformation, malignancy, oncogenes reviewed by Weinberg.
1990- Application of cell culture to production of biotherapeutic agents.
1998- Production of cartilage by tissue engineered cell culture by Aigner et al.
2000- Mapping of the human genome.
2007- Use of viral vectors to reprogram adult cells to embryonic state (induced pluripotent stem cells) by Yu et al.
2008 and beyond- Era of induced pluripotent stem cells – promises and challenges.