Xeno-free, Serum-free, What’s for me? - Mesenchymal Stem Cell Media

Wednesday, February 01, 2017 - 07:46

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) hold significant promise for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. While the use of MSCs for both translational and basic research requires their efficient expansion, the desired media formulations for growing MSCs can vary by application. Specific formulations of MSC media now exist to address these various applications, including serum-containing, serum-free, xeno-free, and GMP-grade media. For many researchers, deciphering which variant of MSC media best suits their needs can be a daunting prospect. This post is meant to help clarify MSC media nomenclature and provide a quick reference for understanding the various media options and when to use them in your research.

MSC Media Description
Serum-containing Basic MSC expansion media is serum-containing, meaning it includes serum or plasma. Serum contains a variety of nutrients critical for cell survival and growth including growth factors, hormones, macromolecules, and adhesion factors. Serum-containing MSC media most commonly contains fetal bovine serum with fetal calf serum also being used by researchers. In general, MSCs tend to grow more robustly in serum-containing media but the lack of control over the unknown variables within serum can confound experimental results and be problematic when moving into clinical trials. While serum-containing MSC media is most commonly being used in research laboratories, it is also being used as an ancillary reagent in cell production for stem cell therapy.
Serum-free Serum-free MSC expansion media does not contain serum or plasma. In comparison to serum-containing media, serum-free media provides more batch-to-batch consistency for the user and gives them more control over culture conditions. Serum-free MSC expansion media can also be used as an ancillary reagent for production of cells for cell therapy.
Xeno-free Xeno-free MSC expansion media does not contain any animal-derived components. Xeno-free medium may potentially contain human-derived components, such as human serum, holo-transferrin, or insulin. It is often used by researchers working to translate a therapy from research to clinic.
GMP-grade GMP-grade media is manufactured so that all products, materials, equipment, and processes used in production are traceable and controlled. Although universally recognized, there are regional differences in the documentation required by regulatory agencies regarding GMP-grade media.
Chemically-defined All of the components in the media are known and it does not contain undefined components such as serum, tissue extracts, platelet lysate, etc. Chemically-defined media contains products and materials with known chemical structure such as, small molecules, salts, fatty acids, etc. It can also include recombinant proteins that are not made in animals.

R&D Systems offers Serum-containing, Serum-free, and Xeno-free variants of our StemXVivo® Mesenchymal Stem Cell Expansion Media. MSCs expanded in any of these media have been shown to maintain a characteristic fibroblast-like morphology, express undifferentiated MSC markers, and maintain the ability to differentiate into adipocytes, chondrocytes, and osteocytes.

View our offering of StemXVivo® MSC Expansion Media


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  2. Usta, S.N. et al. (2014) Ann. of Trans. Med. 2:97.
  3. Medicino M. et al (2014) Cell Stem Cell. 2:141.
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