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Culture Collections

Serum-free products survey


ECACC cell culture flask


Foetal bovine serum (FBS) is an essential reagent for cell cultures, containing several growth factors and hormones able to stimulate cell proliferation in vitro. Serum is a source of growth and adhesion factors, hormones, lipids and minerals for cell cultures. In addition, serum also regulates cell membrane permeability and acts as a carrier to transport lipids, proteins and micronutrients into the cell. On the other hand the use of serum in cell culture media has several disadvantages.

The most common concern is the possible contamination with bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV) and other viruses due to cattle in utero infections, leading to the presence of viruses and antibodies in the FBS. Causative agents of Bovine spongiform encephalopathies (BSE) can also be a concern, although all serum used in the Culture Collections of PHE is sourced from countries which do not have BSE present.

The use of cell lines or viruses using serum containing these adventitious agents may result in contaminated end-products. Serum contaminants may interfere with in vivo investigations, and diagnostic kit performances for the diagnosis of viral infections.

Removal of serum from cell culture offers many potential advantages such as:

  • reduced process variability
  • removal of ill-defined raw materials
  • removal of serum sourcing issues
  • produces a more reproducible system for studies into differentiation, regulation and proliferation
  • reduced risk of allergic response in end product
  • aids downstream processing of product
  • increased likelihood of obtaining regulatory approval for biopharmaceutical products


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October 2016


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