The effect of isolation and culture methods on epithelial stem cell populations and their progeny-toward an improved cell expansion protocol for clinical application

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Barts and The London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • University of Brighton


Background aims: The use of cultured epithelial keratinocytes in the treatment of burns and skin graft donor sites is well established in clinical practice. The most widely used culture method for clinical use was originally developed by Rheinwald and Green 40 years ago. This system uses irradiated mouse dermal fibroblasts as a feeder cell layer to promote keratinocyte growth, a process that is costly and labor-intensive for health care providers. The medium formulation contains several components of animal origin, which pose further safety risks for patients. Improvements and simplification in the culturing process would lead to clear advantages: improved safety through reduction of xenobiotic components and reduction in cost for health care providers by dispensing with feeder cells.

Methods: We compared the Rheinwald and Green method to culture in three commercially available, feeder-free media systems with defined/absent components of animal origin.

Results: During the isolation process, short incubation times in high-strength trypsin resulted in increased numbers of liberated keratinocyte stem cells compared with longer incubation times. All three commercially available media tested in this study could support the expansion of keratinocytes, with phenotypes comparable to cells expanded using the established Rheinwald and Green method. Growth rates varied, with two of the media displaying comparable growth rates, whereas the third was significantly slower.

Discussion: Our study demonstrates the suitability of such feeder-free media systems in clinical use. It further outlines a range of techniques to evaluate keratinocyte phenotype when assessing the suitability of cells for clinical application.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1750-1759
Number of pages10
Issue number12
Early online date5 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Burns, Cell therapy, Keratinocyte, Skin, Sprayed autologous keratinocytes, Stem cells, Wound healing