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Oncology Cell Lines for Research Applications

by Jody Barbeau PhD, June 7, 2018 at 12:00 PM | Tags

cell microscopy image

cell microscopy imageExplore the main types of cancer cell line available and some of their common utilities.

Oncology Cell Lines

One of the backbones of cancer research is cell-based assays and studies. Following many years of scientific development there’s now a wide range of cell line types available, which are reviewed in this post.

Primary Cells

Primary cells are cancer cells isolated directly from human or animal tissue. As they haven’t been immortalized, they have a finite lifespan, but also lack modifications (other than those which occur during culture).

Unlike cell lines, primary cells are from multiple donors which can prove useful for early drug testing. They also allow you to study donors rather than just cells, which can be beneficial in personalized medicine studies.

Cancer Cell Lines

One of the most common tools used in cancer research is immortalized human cancer cell lines, such as the collections available from the ATCC® and ECACC. They are easier to use and more robust than primary cells, with large numbers available – the ATCC alone maintains almost 4,000 cell lines. Cell lines are often highly proliferative and easier in general to culture, and to transfect, then primary cell alternatives.

While human cancer cell lines have helped numerous scientific advances and have many cell-based applications they are not without drawbacks. Misidentification and contamination can be a major issue affecting cell line research. Adaptation to growth on plastic also induces changes within cell lines, which results in alteration in genotype and phenotype from the original disease.

Engineered Cell Lines

With the advancement of scientific techniques, a range of engineered cell lines are now available for a variety of assay types, including:

  • Knock-in cell lines – created using rAAV or CRISPR, for example, knock-in cell lines recapitulate disease relevant mutations allowing a clear understanding of gene or mutation phenotype function

  • Knockout cell lines – a gene of interest is disabled, by technologies such as CRISPR, with complete loss of gene function occurring allowing function assessment assays

  • Recombinant overexpression cell lines – created with lentiviral vectors, often with reporter molecules (fluorescent or luciferase) for a wide range of research applications including functional assays and/or screening of inhibitors or activators

Cell Line Vendors

Some of the main cell line repositories are discussed above - the ATCC® (extensively used) and ECACC.

Some other popular vendors for modified cell lines include:

  • BPS Bioscience, which supplies many luciferase reporter cells lines, and also has a cell line rental service for select cell lines

  • Abeomics, who supply many stable reporter cell lines including target promoters or upstream response elements for TLRs/RLRs, GPCR, RORs, IL-17A, IL-8, IL-6, p53, Nrf2, Wnt, STAT-1, -3, -4 and -5, NFAT, NF-kB, and more

  • GenScript, providing many immune checkpoint stable cell lines for immunotherapy drug discovery programs

  • Horizon, with ready made cell lines, cell line engineering and KI/KO cell lines available

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