Cell culture technique is defined as the process by which prokaryotic, eukaryotic or plant cells are grown or cultured in vitro under controlled laboratory conditions. Cell culture techniques have applications in the following fields:
- Disease diagnosis: Cell culture techniques are applied in clinical medicine for the diagnosis of infectious diseases especially diseases caused by pathogenic viruses. Cell culture techniques aid in rapid viral detection from clinical samples. It also aids in the early treatment of viral infections once the causative viral agent have been detected. Over the years, viral disease diagnosis has traditionally relied on the isolation of viral pathogens in cell cultures which some perceive as being slow and requires special technical expertise. However, advances in cell culture-based viral diagnostic products and techniques including but not limited to cryopreserved cell cultures, centrifugation-enhanced inoculation, precytopathogenic effect detection, co-cultivated cell cultures, and transgenic cell lines have made cell culture to be useful for the diagnosis of viral diseases.
- Biomedical research: In biomedical research, cell culture techniques are most preferable than the use of animals for research. Since the use of animals such as monkeys and chimpanzees for research could lead to the extinction of these animals, cell culture techniques is a good alternative and replacement to prevent the extinction of some wildlife. Cell culture techniques can be applied in biomedical research especially in the area of studying some molecular disease processes, and finding out ways via which these diseases of non-microbial origin could be better treated. With the application of cell culture techniques in biomedical research, improved and prompt ways of detecting disease causative agents could be developed. Cell culture techniques could also be used as model system to study basic cell biology, metabolism and the physiology of living systems.
- Virology: In the field of virology, animal cell culture techniques can be used to replicate the viruses used for vaccine production instead of using animals for this purpose. Cell culture techniques can also be used to detect and isolate pathogenic viruses from clinical samples. It can also be used to study the growth and development cycle of viruses. Cell culture techniques can also be used in virology to study the mode of infection of viral disease agents.
- Genetic engineering: In genetic engineering, cultured animal cells can be used to introduce new genetic material like DNA or RNA into another cell. Such exchange of genetic information amongst cells or organisms can be used to study the expression of new genes and its effect on the health of the recipient host cell. The recipient host cell starts expressing novel proteins that could be of immense industrial and medical importance.Animal cell cultures are used to produce commercially important genetically engineered proteins or immunobiologicals such as monoclonal antibodies, polyclonal antibodies, insulin, anticancer agents and hormones.
- Model systems: Cell culture techniques are used in model systems to study the effect of drugs in human or animal host. It can also be used to study the process of aging in humans. In model systems, cell culture techniques are used to study the major triggers for ageing in man. It can also be used to study how host cell and disease causing agents like bacteria, fungi and viruses interact in vivo.
- Cancer research: Cell culture techniques is used in cancer research to study the basic difference between normal cells and cancer cells since both cells can be cultured in vitro in the laboratory. Normal cells can be converted into cancer cells by using radiation, chemicals and viruses. This allows the mechanism and cause of cancer to be studied in vitro using cell culture techniques. Cell culture techniques can also be used to determine the effective chemotherapeutic drugs that can selectively destroy only cancer cells without harming the host cells since most cancer drugs have several untoward effects on the host.
- Toxicity testing of novel drugs: Cell culture techniques can be used to study the effects of novel drugs, cosmetics and other chemical agents in order to determine not just their efficacy but also the level of their toxicity (i.e. cytotoxicity). The toxicity of the newly developed drugs to vital organs of the body such as the liver and kidney (that are involved in drug metabolism) is also evaluated using cell culture techniques. Drug dosages for novel drugs can also be determined using cell culture techniques.
- Gene therapy: Gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease especially molecular or non-infectious diseases such as cancer. It allows clinicians to treat a genetic disorder by inserting a functional gene (to replace a dysfunctional gene) into a patient’s cells instead of using the conventional treatment methods such as the use of drugs, chemotherapy or surgery.In gene therapy techniques, a dysfunctional gene is replaced with a functional gene. Through cell culture techniques, cultured animal cells are genetically altered and made functional so that they can be used in gene therapy techniques. Briefly, cells are removed from the patient lacking a functional gene or missing a functional gene; and the extracted cells are cultured in vitro through cell culture techniques. These dysfunctional genes are replaced by functional genes. Gene therapy uses a vector, typically a virus, to deliver a gene to the cells where it is needed. Once inside the host cell, the host cell’s gene-reading machinery uses the information in the introduced functional gene to build ribonucleic acid (RNA) and protein molecules which will now replace the lost activities of the replaced dysfunctional gene.
- Vaccine development: Cell culture techniques can be used in vaccine development since they help to culture animal cells in vitro. Cultured animal cells are in turn used in the production or propagation of viruses that are used to produce vaccines. These vaccines are used clinically for the prevention of communicable diseases caused by pathogenic viruses including measles, polio, rabies, hepatitis and chicken pox and other preventable viral diseases.
Cooper G.M and Hausman R.E (2004). The cell: A Molecular Approach. Third edition. ASM Press.
Das H.K (2010). Textbook of Biotechnology. Fourth edition. Wiley edition. Wiley India Pvt, Ltd, New Delhi, India.
Davis J.M (2002). Basic Cell Culture, A Practical Approach. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Mather J and Barnes D (1998). Animal cell culture methods, Methods in cell biology. 2rd eds, Academic press, San Diego.
Noguchi P (2003). Risks and benefits of gene therapy. N Engl J Med, 348:193-194.
Sambrook, J., Russell, D.W. (2001). Molecular Cloning: a Laboratory Manual, 3rd edn. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York.
Tamarin Robert H (2002). Principles of Genetics. Seventh edition. Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co Ltd, Delhi.