Growing Cells

From the 1920s through the 1950s biologists and medical researchers made a concerted effort to solve the problem of tissue culture—how to raise and maintain cells for scientific research. Part of the challenge was to create a home outside the body in which cells could survive. Researchers like Alexis Carrel at Rochester University and Wilton Earle, Gwendolyn Likely, and Katherine Sanford at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) developed new forms of glassware to suit their demands for the perfect cellular environment.


Carrel flask

Alexis Carrel designed a special flask to deal with problems of contamination. The angled neck prevented airborne particles from falling into the flask when it was open. The neck could also be sterilized with a flame both before and after adding or removing nutrient broth.


The NCI team's T-flask's shape addressed the problem of cells being removed along with the broth when changing the fluid. T-flasks were centrifuged prior to changing broth. Trapping cells in the conical end prevented them from being sucked out with the old broth.

Flask with glass helices

Early cells needed a support to cling to in order to grow properly. The NCI team used both sheets of cellophane and small Pyrex glass helices before improved broths strengthened cells, eliminating the need for the support of helices.


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