The magic of primary cells

The magic of primary cells

Cell culture refers to culturing the cells of organisms in an environment that supports their growth. The basic aspect of life is explained by the concept of cells. The study of cells allows the study of the various processes occurring in our bodies. With our bodies exposed to so many chemicals every day, it becomes important to check for the exact effect of chemical molecules. Cell cultures allow an easy in vitro system to perform these studies.

The number of diseases targeting humans is only increasing alarmingly.  The health of people across the world has been threatened by the emergence of around 30 new infectious diseases over the past 30 years, according to Shuvankar Mukherjee in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, 2017. These diseases also lack a definite cure or efficient way to prevent their infection. Many emerging diseases have been classified as possible epidemics by the WHO; these include Nipah, Lassa fever, SARS, Ebola virus disease (EVD), Rift Valley fever, Zika, and chikungunya. These diseases require research and development (R&D) on an urgent basis to understand their causes and test possible cures. This is where the use of primary culture makes its appearance.

If we look at another global burden: cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 9.6 million people died due to cancer in 2018 with one of 6 deaths occurring due to this disease. Apart from the toll on human health, the disease also is an economic burden; the 2010 expenditure on cancer was US$ 1.16 trillion! Given these figures, a suitable system is needed to study cancer and possible therapies: cell cultures again become a suitable option.

Primary cell cultures refer to the removal of tissue from an organism and maintaining them in an appropriate medium to allow their division. One approach involves placing a piece of tissue in a glass or plastic vessel followed by bathing it in a medium. Division and growth of cells occur when cells separate from the tissue piece. In another approach, the tissue is treated with enzymes to digest the attaching materials of cells to hence release single cells that are cultured in the appropriate medium.

According to a 2017 published article in the IOSR Journal of Biotechnology and Biochemistry by Praveen and Mounika, primary cultures offer an advantage of retaining the phenotype and functions of the tissue from which they were isolated. Another advantage is that the metabolism of primary cell culture is at par with that of the in vivo system than sub-cellular fractions that are often used in research.

According to Carter and Shieh, 2015, the use of primary culture permits a researcher to study cells in an in vitro environment that is maintained and controlled. Such experiments allow for comparing cells of a genetically modified animal with that of the wild-type.

According to Gardiner and Freema (2016), the use of primary cultures of neurons and glial cells of the nervous system has allowed studies in calcium signaling, signal transduction, and axonal transport, to name a few. The use of these cultures also allows a first step to model the nervous system and the isolation of dorsal root ganglions to study changes in phenotype in diabetes.

The ultimate goal of the research is to identify biological processes and design suitable therapies to treat diseases. We can look at a health issue as a “dis”ease-or lack of ease. Research shows that primary cultures serve as suitable models to study such pathways and offer solutions for “ease”.

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