Viable Cells

Cryopreserved Primary Cells

Primary cells are cells which are directly isolated from human or animal tissues and that reflect the biological diversity of the different body districts and donors they are isolated from. They differ from continuous cell lines in that cell lines are usually artificially created by immortalizing healthy cells or by selecting tumor cells which are attaching to plastic and proliferating in culture.

Characteristics and uses of primary cells​

Since primary cells are directly isolated from living or intact tissues (pre- or post-mortem) without previous genetic manipulation, they reflect the biological diversity of the donor or tissue they are isolated from. Moreover, cells isolated from healthy donors present distinctive characteristics of healthy cells in the body such as:

  • A limited proliferation and lifespan (usually calculated in terms of population doublings)
  • A low mutation rate
  • Contact inhibition
  • Intact signaling pathways
  • Intrinsic biologic variability

These characteristics are essential for the life of living organisms under normal conditions: in most of the somatic cells (all cells apart sperm and egg cells, also called germ cells, and stem cells) cell division is associated with a reduction in the length of telomers (the terminal part of the chromosomes). With subsequent cell divisions, cells with short telomers lose the stability of their chromosomes, leading to increased mutation rates, senescence and finally cell death. Several signaling pathways from nearby cells inform the cells when it‘s time to stop dividing (a process that takes place also in in vitro cultures after reaching cell confluence) and avoid cell death.

How do primary healthy and tumor cells differ from cell lines?

Healthy cells

Single cells evading this senescence mechanism by restoring the function of telomerases (particular enzymes involved in the repair of telomers) or disrupting the signaling loops leading to contact inhibition will continue proliferating and accumulating mutations, thus significantly differing from healthy cells in their biology and potentially transforming into tumor cells. It is possible to recreate the same conditions by artificially restoring the function of telomerases. Cells created from this process are normally called „cell lines“, as a line of cells is created from a single mutated cell or clone. As such, cell lines do not represent a population of different cells isolated from the same tissue, but exact copies of the same cell/clone.



Tumor Cells

Primary tumor cells are cells isolated from primary tumor tissues and reflecting the characteristics of the original tumor tissue in vivo. Although primary tumor cells (tumor dissociated cells) represent the same intrinsic biologic variability of healthy primary cells, they often lack a limited proliferation/lifespan and contact inhibition in vivo, while their high mutation rates lead to an altered signaling comparing to healthy cells. Despite their apparent similarity to cell lines in this respect, primary tumor cells do not often proliferate or survive for a long time in vitro, and significant effort is required to develop plastic-adherent clones from primary tumor cells. Also in this case, adhering tumor cells form cell lines that do not represent the biological variability at a cellular level in the primary tumor, but merely constitutes copies of the original plastic-adherent cell/clone.

Why using primary cells?​
Primary cells allow to establish biologically relevant models through the optimal combination of the right cells from the right tissue and the right donor and produce biologically relevant data that can be used for fundamental research or drug discovery and development assays. The establishment of biologically relevant models allows to avoid failure in later stages of clinical trials by closely mimicking the biological variation within a population. This translates to significant saving in terms of money and funding, increasing attrition in the early pipeline and reducing risk throughout the whole drug development pipeline. Similarly, primary tumor cells or tumor dissociated cells closely mimic the biological variability in tumors, but do not resemble the functionality of healthy primary cells. It is therefore important to underline that cell lines and tumor cell lines should not be used to study or represent the behavior or functionality of healthy primary cells
Why using cell lines?​
Cell lines are single cell clones created by either artificially immortalizing primary cells or selecting plastic-adhering tumor cells. They can be used with limitations to study basic cell behavior, but might present significant alterations comparing to healthy or tumor cells, as several signaling pathways are mutated and they present significant higher mutagenesis levels comparing to healthy cells. Because of this, also cell line can be utilized only for a limited number of passages/population doublings before drifting too strongly from the original population. The increased mutagenesis of cell lines is also the reason why similar cell lines provided by different manufacturers will often perform differently in common in vitro assays. One of the main risks concerning continuous cell lines is related to the often reported misidentification of the cell type and the increased risk of bacterial and in particular mycoplasma contamination due to lacking QC. Despite this, cell lines have proved to be useful for protein production in commercial applications or for the expression of proteins in screening assays (e.g. in lead discovery) and therefore still play a role in research.

BIOMEX’s Cryopreserved primary cells

BIOMEX sources its primary cells either from the own plasma center in Central Europe or through collaborations with hospitals and research centers. All cells are ethically sourced and anonymized before undergoing QC testing.

Donor and cell-specific information provided with the certificate of analysis include demographics, serology, HLA class I and II characterization, FCGR3A Polymorphisms, smoking status, hematological analysis pre- and post-thaw (for immune cells), medications, allergies and eventual other diseases. In addition, cells are tested for sterility and cell activation or functionality according to the cell type. Additional testing, vialing specifications or dedicated isolation of particular cell types can be evaluated according to your needs.

For more information visit our dedicated page on Services.

  • Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMCs)​

  • CD34+ Hematopoietic Stem Cells from Cord Blood, Mobilized Leukopaks and Bone Marrow​​

  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Bone Marrow​

  • Adipose-derived Stem Cells​

  • Dental Pulp Stem Cells​

Are cryopreserved cells right from my study?
(and why you should read this)

If you already use primary cells for your studies and isolate the cells yourself, you may never have asked yourself this question. But why would commercially available cells be useful for you?

Sourcing, isolation and characterization of primary cells involve spending a considerable amount of time and funding. Especially the primary and accessory materials, time and personnel costs involved in characterization, cell expansion and cryopreservation can be high for the cell quantities required in routine assays, where donor variability may be preferred over larger batch sizes per donor. As a result, much of the biological material gets wasted or is not used, and the combined cost of personnel and materials is usually far greater than the price of cryopreserved cells from commercial manufacturers, who can spread these costs over many users.

Moreover, in-house cell isolation forces you to schedule your experiments according to the logistics of your isolations, and any failed isolation or significant variability between productions will constitute a major setback to your experiments in addition to the production time, delaying your project and potentially your access to funding/budget or lowering your lab’s output in terms of publications.

A simple calculation for the isolation of an adherent cell type includes:


(1 day to several months depending on the tissue)


(1 day to 1 week depending on the cell type)

Expansion & Cryopreservation

(ca 1 week)

Thawing & Characterization

(1 day to 1 month)

Sterility Testing

(up to 3 weeks)

Take into consideration your sourcing schedule and your cell type of interest and you will realize that you are often spending more time isolating cells than generating data! Finally, if you are isolating cells yourself, you are likely bound by an ethical permission by an ethical committee. According to the agreed informed consent and the data collected, you might not have all data relevant for your study. 

If particular demographics and the clinical history of your donors are relevant for your study, consider if commercial manufacturers might have a solution for you.

For more information on how we can support your project, contact us!​

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