Successful symposium tackles biggest problems in cell culture research

On Friday, 1 June, the Utrecht Life Sciences 3Rs Centre hosted the symposium ‘Improving Science, Advancing Animal Welfare’. The purpose of the symposium was to tackle the biggest problems in contemporary cell- and tissue culture research. The symposium drew representatives from the scientific and business communities, as well as policymakers.

“Growing cells and tissues outside the body (in vitro) offers considerable potential to replace animal experiments in biomedical research, such as the testing of new medications”, explains Dr. Jan van der Valk, head of the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences. The centre is also a partner in Utrecht Advanced In Vitro Methods (U-AIM). Van der Valk: “Essential developments are currently underway to improve research and reduce the number of animals needed for experiments. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the methods we use to culture cells.”

Problems with foetal calf serum           

Foetal calf serum (FCS) is one of the problems that in vitro researchers face today. The serum, which is the standard for feeding cultured cells, comes from live, unborn calves obtained after their mothers are slaughtered. These calves should therefore be considered as animals used for scientific purposes. There are also a number of scientific objections to the use of FCS. Therefore, the 3Rs-Centre ULS launched the FCS-free Database last year, to help researchers find serum-free media (see: The symposium also discussed other alternatives, such as using human blood platelet lysate to grow cells and tissues in vitro.

Identity of cells

Another problem that came up during the symposium was the reliable identification of cell lines. The speakers gave several examples of studies using cell lines that later turned out to be a different cell type than the researchers had initially thought. This can occur during cross-contamination, for example. As this is a waste of considerable research funds and time, the symposium attendees argued for the regular identification of cell lines. Cell banks can play a vital role in this process.

Important guidance document

The symposium was organised to mark the approaching publication of the new OECD Guidance Document on Good In Vitro Methods Practices (GIVIMP). Dr. Sandra Coecke, researcher at the European Commission’s EURL-ECVAM (JRC), explained important elements from the document. At this moment, the GIVIMP is the most detailed document providing instructions for the proper conduct of cell- and tissue culture research.

The symposium was held at Conference Centre Eindhoven, on the Glorieuxpark Estate. This unique location is famous for its sustainability efforts, and is therefore a good fit with the mission of the 3Rs-Centre ULS: the sustainable development, acceptance and application of methods that replace, reduce, and refine animal experiments.

The symposium was made possible thanks to the partners of the 3Rs Database Programme, such as Conference Centre Eindhoven, Triodos Foundation, Animal Free Research UK, and Alternatives Research & Development Foundation.

For more information about the 3Rs-Centre ULS, see: