Four Steps to Ensuring Greater Quality & Consistency in FBS and Scientific Research

By Alyssa Master, Ph.D.

Cell culture and in vitro models are important in helping scientists elucidate cell responses to various therapies and facilitate scientific discovery. Lack of reproducibility of scientific experiments is a pervasive issue that affects cell culture work due to the plethora of uncontrollable components used in these systems. Reproducibility and overall success is predicated by consistently high quality components that enable continued scientific breakthroughs.

Serum is a complex organic solution of proteins, growth factors, amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other components to promote growth and maintenance of adherent or suspension cells. Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) is the most commonly used serum supplement because of its rich growth factor, protein, and macromolecule levels. FBS is a byproduct of the meat industry, using blood fraction after coagulation from which red blood cells have been removed. While serum-free and non-animal-derived (xeno-free) media can be used in some systems, they do not provide a suitable environment for many cell lines, and often require tradeoffs such as higher expense and slower growth rates.

Vastly different grades of FBS are available on the market. With critical parameters at stake such as reproducibility and cell viability, dependable quality is essential. Every variable matters and inconsistency in quality can result in failed experiments, as assistant professor and cancer biologist Matthew Sikora, Ph.D., University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, found when his laboratory was stalled for several months due to sequential batches of serum failing initial screens.

“We estimated the cost of the failed experiments at over $45,000 in just personnel and consumables. We think that unrecognized variations in serum might explain why we could not get consistent results,” said Dr. Sikora. “Researchers who don’t test their serum could run into trouble and risk expensive delays.”

What criteria are important for researchers to assess when gauging the quality of their FBS?

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Reprinted with the permission of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News