Fetal bovine serum (FBS) or fetal calf serum (FCS)
Fetal bovine serum or FBS (or fetal calf serum) is the portion of plasma remaining after coagulation of blood, during which process the plasma protein fibrinogen is converted to fibrin and remains behind in the clot. Fetal bovine serum comes from the blood drawn from a bovine fetus via a closed system of collection at the slaughterhouse (aka abattoir). Fetal bovine serum is the most widely used serum-supplement for the in vitro cell culture of eukaryotic cells. This is due to it having a very low level of antibodies and containing more growth factors, allowing for versatility in many different cell culture applications.
The globular protein, bovine serum albumin (BSA), is a major component of fetal bovine serum. The rich variety of proteins in fetal bovine serum maintains cultured cells in a medium in which they can survive, grow, and divide.
Taken from Wikipedia
Human cells and tissue are grown in a culture form and in order for the cells or tissue to grow and proliferate, a source of nutrients, namely hormones and growth factors must be added. The usual supplement is fetal calf serum – also known as fetal bovine serum - a product that is cruelly derived from the fetuses of cows found pregnant at slaughter. Serum is blood without any cells, platelets or clotting factors and fetal calf serum especially, is considered to be a rich source of nutrients.
It has been estimated that around half a million litres of raw FCS is produced each year worldwide which equates to the harvesting of more than one million bovine fetuses annually. (1) Some sources have suggested that the actual figure may be closer to two million fetuses per year. (2)
After slaughter and bleeding of the cow at an abattoir, the mother's uterus containing the calf fetus is removed during the evisceration process (removal of the mother's internal organs) and transferred to the blood collection room. (3). A needle is then inserted between the fetus's ribs directly into its heart and the blood is vacuumed into a sterile collection bag. This process is aimed at minimizing the risk of contamination of the serum with micro-organisms from the fetus and its environment. Only fetuses over the age of three months are used otherwise the heart is considered too small to puncture. (4)
Once collected, the blood is allowed to clot at room temperature and the serum separated through a process known as refrigerated centrifugation.
It remains questionable as to whether or not fetuses have already died from anoxia (deprivation of oxygen) prior to serum collection. Nevertheless, no anesthesia is given, despite their possible ability to experience pain and discomfort.
There are also many compelling scientific reasons why Fetal Calf Serum should no longer be used in research. Here are a few strong arguments:
- Serum is a major source of viral contaminants which once present, are almost impossible to remove from cultures. It can contain viruses, prions (a protein that can transform into a rogue agent) and mycoplasma (considered to be a primitive form of bacteria), (5) each of which can skew the outcome of scientific experiments.
- Many substances present in FCS have not yet been identified, and of the substances which have been, the function of the cultured cells is not always clear.” (6)
- FCS can interfere with genotypic and phenotypic cell stability, which can also influence experimental outcome.
- Serum can suppress cell spreading, attachment and embryonal tissue differentiation, which is the process by which embryonic cells develop into specialized cells for particular functions. Critically, this can actually prevent an objective of cell growth research especially when we talk about growing new organs and limbs.
Source: Humane Research Australia
The following text has been taken from the website of 'One Voice'
and translated roughly into English for your convenience
Some cows brought to slaughter are pregnant. After being slaughtered, their fetus - still alive - is extracted from the uterus by incision. A needle is then plunged deep into the heart, whose beats can draw blood without effort ... This intracardiac puncture, deemed extremely painful and causes a slow death by asphyxiation. But studies have shown that a fetus of 3 months had physiological predispositions to feel pain. Some critics argue the fact that the fetus is not conscious at the time of puncture. When removed from the mother, lack of oxygen the fetus can dive into a state of unconsciousness. They forget that the majority of fetuses have taken 6 to 9 months, and are therefore able to breathe by themselves when the oxygen runs out ... then they are fully aware and fully feel the pain in their slow agony. Do not forget the distress they feel after being torn from their mother's remains.
The use of fetal bovine serum also raises scientific problems. The serum comes from the commercialized mixture of blood of thousands of different fetuses, grouped in tanks from 500 to 2000 liters as slaughterhouses.Its composition is not stable and introduced variables hazardous in cell cultures. For this reason, it is advisable for laboratories using identical batches for the same experiment. Two similar experiments could provide different results if batches of serum used are not the same ...
The fetal serum can contain microorganisms that were present in the blood of the animal, such as bacteria or viruses. This induces large health risks! It is indeed not always possible to restore the serum because its purification and filtration can reduce the required qualities. An infected serum can nevertheless be very dangerous, especially when used to manufacture vaccines ... Cases of infected cattle products developed on infected serum-supplemented medium have been observed. For this reason, the World Health Organization also recommends the pharmaceutical industries do not use products from fluids from cattle ...
Figures and paradox The largest producers of serum are the United States, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. France is one of the few countries in Europe to produce. Each year millions of liters of serum are collected ... then a fetus provides between 150 and 550 ml of serum according to his age! Demand continues to grow serum, motivated by the increasing use of in vitro cell cultures. Paradoxically, these in vitro techniques are meant to substitute for testing on animals ...
Fetuses are not affected by the laws of the animal welfare or expérimentations.Parce they are not born, they do not apply to them. Yet their pain is real! 86 European Directive on animal experiments are currently being modified, it will hopefully finally take them into consideration. They too must be protected. It is no less immoral to make them suffer because they are not born naturally! At a time when we measure the importance of experience during fetal life in humans, we can not ignore the mode of treatment of fetal animals.
Many alternatives exist that avoid the use of serum for cell cultures. The synthetic nutritional supplements, components clearly identified, are both more reliable and scientifically rigorous. Although their use is mandatory for industries that are best suited to identify each cell type, it is still cheaper in the long term and not a sanitary risk. In addition, an ethical perspective, avoidance of animal suffering alone should be enough to guide individual choices or industrial.
European bodies in charge of developing alternative methods have signed a declaration supporting the use of synthetic substitutes for animal sera used for cell cultures. They recognize in particular the suffering and the ethical problem of using fetal calf serum.
What you can do
You can write to the European Commissioner for Health and the Ministry of Research to protest against this practice:
Comissioner Androulla Vassiliou
The European Commission
Ministry of Higher Education and Research
1 rue Descartes
75231 Paris Cedex 05