Join Our Mailing List Today!

NOTICE: Online ordering will be disabled 1/27-2/3. Learn More.

The Right Cell Culture Media Can Help Your NK Cell Therapy Progress to the Clinic

The Right Cell Culture Media Can Help Your NK Cell Therapy Progress to the Clinic

Cell therapy scientists searching for a potent tool to fight cancer have zeroed in on the potential of natural killer (NK) cells because they have the innate ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells. In fact, studies show NK cells possess the capability to identify certain tumor cells or virus-infected cells and destroy malignant cells by injecting cell-degrading proteins.

Despite the promise they hold, NK cells present significant challenges to overcome before they can be reliably and effectively translated into tumor-fighting cancer therapies.

If you’re developing a NK cell-mediated therapy, it is imperative to understand the critical role cell culture media plays in facilitating a seamless transition from preclinical to clinical research—and how selecting the right cell culture media in the research phase can help eliminate a few of the obstacles to translating a research discovery into a viable therapy.

Read on to discover how innovative media solutions can help your NK cell therapy progress from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside.

Pick an Expansion Medium that Supports Growth and Potency

First and foremost NK cells are not naturally abundant in vivo. Thus, to achieve their cancer-fighting potential, they must be expanded into large numbers. But expansion alone is not enough. NK cells must retain their cytotoxicity to be effective, which assures they are potent and able to seek and destroy malignant cells.

The good news? With modern cell culture media, the reliable expansion of potent NK cells is achievable—eliminating a significant barrier to the successful development of NK cell-mediated cancer therapies.

The bad news? Many popular NK cell expansion techniques introduce new obstacles for researchers to overcome if they plan to progress their therapy from preclinical to clinical research.

The Right Media Can Help You Avoid Some of the Pitfalls of Popular Expansion Protocols

Currently, popular NK cell expansion methods present significant obstacles for future clinical applications because they typically require animal-derived and undefined components and the use of feeder cells.

Specifically, animal-derived components, including serum, such as fetal bovine serum (FBS), are comprised of an undefined mixture of proteins, hormones, minerals, growth factors, and lipids, among a host of other components. Plus, the composition of serum is influenced by various factors, including the method of blood collection and processing, donor diet and country of origin, as well as the inherent biological differences between donors. It also carries the potential risk of contamination with prion, bacteria, or viruses (read in-depth about the impact of serum-derived undefined biologic modifiers in NK cell expansion). 1,2

When combined, these factors make the inclusion of serum in NK cell expansion protocols risky, and the process of expansion variable. Both issues can have a profound impact on reproducing results within and across research groups, slow down research efforts, and ultimately, derail a promising therapeutic from ever reaching clinical applications. 1,2

Alternatively, some NK cell expansion protocols turn to human serum albumin (HSA) because it eliminates the “animal-derived” component issue. However, HSA does not alleviate concerns with lot variability, undefined composition, and risk of contamination. 1,2

Finally, many popular NK cell expansion protocols call for co-culture systems with feeder cells. But, despite their considerable effectiveness in helping cells proliferate, feeder cells, by nature, are highly complex. Their use raises legitimate concerns about undesirable components or genetic material transferring to the therapeutic cells as a consequence of the process. Despite varying safeguards, such as irradiation, the possibility of contamination is still present, limiting the viability of a potential therapeutic for clinical applications. 3

To avoid these issues—and facilitate a smooth transition from preclinical to clinical research—a medium that is free from animal-derived and undefined components, as well as not dependent on feeder cells for successful expansion, is required.

A Chemically-defined, Animal Component-free Medium Eliminates These Issues

Irvine Scientific recently released PRIME-XV NK Cell CDM—the first commercially available chemically-defined (CDM), animal component-free (ACF) medium for the ex vivo expansion of NK cells.

Designed for use in NK cell-based immunotherapy research and translational applications, this advanced medium delivers strong cell growth while also maintaining NK cell cytotoxicity without the need for serum supplementation in either the presence or absence of feeder cells.

It is the first commercially-available medium specifically formulated to address the issues outlined above—and help cell therapy scientists advance promising NK cell-mediated therapies from preclinical to clinical research.


PRIME-XV NK Cell CDM is the latest addition to the PRIME-XV portfolio of complete, chemically-defined, serum-free media solutions targeted to support cell and immunotherapy applications. It joins a range of products designed to facilitate the seamless transition from preclinical to clinical research. All products are manufactured using stringent raw material qualification and under Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) for consistency and reliability.

Contact us today to discover how the PRIME-XV product portfolio can benefit your laboratory.



  1. Torelli, GF, Rozera C, Santodonato L, et al. A Good Manufacturing Practice Method to Ex Vivo Expand Natural Killer Cells for Clinical Use. Blood Transfusion. 2015; 13(3):464-471. doi: 10.2450/2015.0231-14.
  2. Lopes V. The Impact of Serum and Serum-derived Undefined Biologic Modifiers in Cell Culture. Irvine Scientific. May 2017. Accessed June 7, 2018.
  3. Oyer JL, Igarashi RY, Kulikowski AR, et al. Generation of Highly Cytotoxic Natural Killer Cells for Treatment of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Using a Feeder-Free, Particle-Based Approach. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation. 2015;21(4):632-639. doi:10.1016/j.bbmt.2014.12.037.



© 2024 FUJIFILM Irvine Scientific. All rights reserved.