Alternatives to Fetal Bovine Serum in Cell Culture media, Challenges and Perspectives

A guest blog by Steve Pettit, Director Cell Culture, InVitria with tables provided by The Dish

Dr. Gerhard Gstraunthaler recently presented a seminar with the above title. Gerhard carries a faculty appointment with the Department of Physiology at Innsbruck Medical University, Austria. Gerhard is an advocate of serum-free cell culture technology and is one of the founders of Good Cell Culture Practice (GCCP), an initiative for the standardization of quality control of in vitro studies. (

Gerhard presented several informative concepts about cell culture and the advantage of using serum-free media. One of the greatest concerns over the use of serum in cell culture media is the variability of results in cell based assays for activity of a growth factor, drug, or other compound on cell function. Serum is undefined and not suitable for most cell based activity assays. The multitude of components found in serum can inhibit the activity of compounds or protein factors in cell based assays. Moreover, serum is variable in composition and variable in performance from on a lot-to-lot basis. Other disadvantages for the use of serum are endotoxin and hemoglobin effects, infectious agents concerns, the lack of performance of FBS with some cell lines, ethical concerns, and the supply concerns over the availability of serum for research or manufacturing purposes.

For consistent cell based performance, serum free media is the best alternative. Serum-free media allow a more controlled culture environment that results in greater reproducibility. There is also less risk of advantageous contamination when animal-free and serum-free media are utilized. Additionally,there is a purification benefit when protein expression is the goal since serum free media have much less protein, including IgG, than serum-supplemented media.

Elimination of the use of serum in cell culture also supports the 3R’s (Refinement, Reduction, Replacement) for the ethical concern of animals.

Gerhard touted the benefits of using Insulin and Transferrin supplements for the reduction of serum in cell culture. An animal free Insulin and Transferrin supplement is available here. Additional reduction of serum can be achieved by adding recombinant albumin such as Cellastim in combination with the Insulin and transferrin supplements.

Gerhard also detailed research, which investigated the use of human platelet extracts as a replacement for serum. These extracts serve as an equivalent replacement for serum in many cell types such as stem cells and epithelial cells.

Table of Supplements Mentioned Above
TypeProductCost Per Liter of MediaAnimal-free, Animal DerivedRecombinant or Native Components
Insulin-Transferrin SupplementInVitria ITSE Animal-free$10-12Animal FreeRecombinant
Fisher Sci AF ITSE$12-$14Animal FreeRecombinant
Corning/Mediatech ITS$15-20Animal DerivedNative
Invitrogen ITS-A$20-25Animal DerivedNative
Invitrogen ITS-G$20-25Animal DerivedNative
Invitrogen ITS-X$20-$25Animal DerivedNative
Gemini BIO ITS$20-25Animal DerivedNative
Sigma ITS$12-15Animal DerivedNative
ThermoFisher ITS$12-15Animal DerivedNative
BD ITS +$12-15Animal DerivedNative
Sciencell ITS$15-20Animal DerivedNative
Recombinant AlbuminInVitria Cellastim$1-6Animal FreeRecombinant/td>
Sigma rAlbumin$1-6Animal FreeRecombinant
Fisher Sci rAlbumin$1-6Animal FreeRecombinant
Mediatech cellgro rAlbumin$1-6Animal FreeRecombinant
Sheffield Bioscience Albumin ACF$1-6Animal FreeRecombinant