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Alternatives to Laboratory Animals - ATLA

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The Use of Human Cells in Biomedical Research and Testing

Robert D. Combes

The ability to use human cells in biomedical research and testing has the obvious advantage over the use of laboratory animals that the need for species extrapolation is obviated, due to the presence of more-relevant morphological, physiological and biochemical properties, including receptors. Moreover, human cells exhibit the same advantages as animal cells in culture in that different cell types can be used, from different tissues, with a wide range of techniques, to investigate a wide variety of biological phenomena in tissue culture. Human cells can also be grown as organotypic cultures to facilitate the extrapolation from cells to whole organisms. Human cell lines have been available for many years on an ad hoc basis from individual researchers, and also from recognised sources, such as the European Collection of Animal Cell Cultures (ECACC) and, in the USA, the Human Cell Culture Centre (HCCC). Such cells have usually been derived from tumours and this has restricted the variety of types of cells available. This problem has been addressed by using primary human cells that can be obtained from a variety of sources, such as cadavers, diseased tissue, skin strips, peripheral blood, buccal cavity smears, hair follicles and surgical waste from biopsy material that is unsuitable for transplantation purposes. However, primary human cells need to be obtained, processed, distributed and handled in a safe and ethical manner. They also have to be made available at the correct time to researchers very shortly after they become available. It is only comparatively recently that the safe and controlled acquisition of surgica