Cell-based assays are an important part of the drug discovery process and clinical research. One of the main hurdles is to design sufficiently robust assays with adequate signal to noise parameters while maintaining the inherent physiology of the cells and not interfering with the pharmacology of target being investigated.
A plethora of assays that assess cell viability (or cell heath in general) are commercially available and can be classified under different categories according to their concepts and principle of reactions. The assays are valuable tools, however, suffer from a large number of limitations. Some of these limitations can be procedural or operational, but others can be critical as those related to a poor concept or the lack of proof of concept of an assay, e.g. those relying on differential permeability of dyes in-and-out of viable versus compromised cell membranes. While the assays can differentiate between dead and live cells, most, if not all, of them can just assess the relative performance of cells rather than providing a clear distinction between healthy and dying cells. The possible impact of relatively high molecular weight dyes, used in most of the assay, on cell viability has not been addressed. More innovative assays are needed, and until better alternatives are developed, setup of current cell-based studies and data interpretation should be made with the limitations in mind. Negative and positive control should be considered whenever feasible. Also, researchers should use more than one orthogonal method for better assessment of cell health.
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