When studying human cells in a laboratory, it is important that the media, or the broth that bathes the cells, contains all of the nutrients necessary to support cells through their normal growth and division phases even though they are outside of the body. Bioscientists at Berkeley Lab have a long history of studying breast cancer, and Martha Stampfer, senior scientist in the Biological Systems & Engineering (BSE) Division, has spent decades developing media now widely used by the community.
Today, PLOS ONE published a study describing a comprehensive analysis of three kinds of media used to grow human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC). This work was co-led by Stampfer and Mark LaBarge, BSE affiliate and Deputy Director of the Center for Cancer and Aging at the Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope. The side-by-side comparison shows that the commercialized and commonly used media yield cultures that have significant problems growing HMEC with normal properties.
“Over 30 years ago, I developed media and cells that were commercialized in the mid-80s and are still being sold as normal HMEC,” said Stampfer. “However, more than ten years ago, we realized that the HMEC grown in this medium are highly aberrant. They even display cancer-associated traits.” To address this problem, Stampfer and her Berkeley Lab collaborator, James Garbe, developed a new media that performs well and produces cell cultures that grow well and best resemble normal in vivo HMEC.
Stampfer hopes that people will start realizing that HMEC grown in the old media do not behave like normal HMEC. “We performed this side-by-side comparison to test our new media and were very pleased with the results,” she said. “It is the goal of all researchers to get the best data, and to do that you need the best cells.”
Other BSE researchers who participated in this study were Jonathan K. Lee, research assistant and co-first author of the study, and Garbe, research scientist. The team also included collaborators from City of Hope and University of Barcelona.