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What is the difference between primary and secondary cell culture?
A primary cell culture refers to cells that have been removed from a live donor/specimen and have been established in an in vitro environment.
Secondary cell culture refers to cell lines that have been immortalized, usually by overexpressing an enzyme called human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), and can divide indefinitely. Many tissue types are not amenable to immortalisation, so primary cell culture may be the only option in some circumstances.
Both primary and secondary cell cultures have advantages and disadvantages:
Using primary cell cultures will provide biological results in specific cells of interest, that are more accurate to those seen in the host tissue. However, there will be a finite number of cells with a finite lifespan for you to use.
In contrast, secondary cell cultures will be easier to maintain and have a more uniform and long-lasting cell population, but as the cultures have grown and been passaged in artificial cell culture media, they will provide biological responses different from cells within the original host tissue. Additionally, these cells may have genetic drifting, changes or mutations acquired during repeated passaging and culture maintenance.
To overcome some of the limitations of secondary cell cultures, some researchers prefer to use human plasma-like cell culture media such as PlasmaxTM, rather than standard media.
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