A Better Way to Culture Your Cells


We may need oxygen to live, but cell cultures may need less of it to thrive. Considering hypoxic conditions for your cells is one of many decisions you’ll make that will have an impact on your work—but depending on the types of cells, it can be key to your success. 

Why Hypoxia?

Most cells in vivo are exposed to lower oxygen levels than atmospheric or common culture concentrations. With the exception of skin and mucous membranes, cells don’t normally live in the 21% 02levels of our atmosphere. Depending on their distance from arterial blood, cells in solid tissues simply have less: lungs are exposed to 12% oxygen, the brain ranges between 0.5% and 7%, and bone marrow between 0% and 4%.

So if modeling the in vivo state is critical to your work (and it will be for primary cells, stem cells, neural cells, and cancer cells), you’ll need to mimic the levels that those cells will thrive in: hypoxia, also known as in situ normoxia.

Less is more: Longer life and greater viability

What effects does oxygen have on cells? Turn up the levels, and you’ll see an increase in oxidative stress, DNA damage, and stem cell differentiation. Turning them down increases the lifespan of the cells, limits oxidative damage and genetic instability, and reduces differentiation signals.

The impact of oxygen level on cancer research is especially notable. As we look deep into a solid tumor, oxygen levels decrease, ending with very low oxygen and necrotic conditions at the center. Cells here are dying but linked to resistance to chemotherapy and radiation, and are tied to cancer recurrence. To effectively model solid tumors for developing cancer therapeutics, turn the O2 levels down.

So how do you begin culturing in hypoxia? Consider an incubator with variable oxygen control. You can generate hypoxic conditions on a small scale using a modular-sealed chamber. 

Watch the Webinar

To learn more about culturing in hypoxia, view our Cell Culture Café on-demand webinar (access and watch at any time).Visit the learning center at thermofisher.com/cell culture and search in webinars for Culture Your Cells Using Less Oxygen for Biologically Relevant Results.


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