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By Dr. Christian Oberdanner.
Cell-based assays are a core research tool, offering an informative and cost-effective counterpart to in vitro and animal tests. Where destructive methods involving cell lysis once predominated, live cell assays are now commonplace, with measurements collected in real time, either at a single time point (end-point assays) or repeatedly over the course of minutes, hours or even days (kinetic assays).
These cells have stories to tell. Just watch and listen.
Compare a movie to a still image, and you can appreciate how valuable kinetic cell assays can be, in contrast to the more conventional end-point formats, which capture only a snapshot of the cell’s complex story. Knowing precisely when something occurred and how long it lasted can add a vital dimension to your understanding of dynamic cell behaviors and responses. Whether you choose end-point or kinetic formats, live cell assays offer more physiologically relevant and contextual information than their in vitro predecessors, at a fraction of the cost of testing in animals.
Fortunately, running live cell assays needn’t blow your budget. Advances in fluorescent reagents, detection equipment, automation and software have made it possible to run a wide selection of information-rich, real-time cell assays on affordable microplate readers. Monitoring even relatively basic aspects of cell health such as proliferation, cell viability and apoptosis can provide significant biological insights. Cell health indicators are often monitored simultaneously with specific biological markers to add even more information to the mix. More recently, multimodal microplate readers have begun to include cell imaging, which further expands the range of capabilities to include more complex applications like wound healing and cell migration.
Cell-based assays that don’t faithfully reflect physiological conditions are a waste of time. A fundamental element of successful live-cell assays is therefore the ability to maintain cell health throughout the experiment. Since cells can’t talk, the importance of adequate environmental control is easy to overlook, but we do so at our peril. Without it, we may miss – or misinterpret – what our cells are really trying to say.
Here are just a few things your cells would tell you, if only they could talk:
Your cells have a lot more to say about how to get the most from them in live cell assays. To learn more download our free application guide.