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What is Cell Viability?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cell viability is a determination of living or dead cells, based on a total cell sample. Viability measurements may be used to evaluate the death or life of cancerous cells and the rejection of implanted organs. In other applications, these tests might calculate the effectiveness of a pesticide or insecticide, or evaluate environmental damage due to toxins.

Since everything living is made up of cells, cell viability counts have a tremendous number of applications. Testing for it usually involves looking at a sample cell population and staining the cells or applying chemicals to show which are living and which are dead. There are numerous tests and methods for measuring this.

When a sample is stained with various dyes or treated with chemicals, it is then subject to microscopic examination to evaluate cell viability. These measurements can be used to evaluate the effectiveness or lack thereof of certain treatments to cells.

The dyes or testing measurements used for determining cell viability are frequently called reagents. These are substances designed to provoke chemical reactions. When reagents are applied to cells, they may perform several actions, which allow scientists to examine cells in many different ways. Sometimes reagents are tested merely to show how they may affect the cells themselves, thus giving scientists information on which reagents should be avoided in order to not corrupt testing.

Cell viability may also be examined in a population or certain risk group to further understand the growth of cells. This is particularly the case with cancerous cells in human and animal populations. A viability analysis can give researchers information about the ways in which cancers grow, act, and react to treatment. These statistics can better inform treatment or help doctors give patients more accurate statistics on outcomes of particular types of cancers.

Another example of viability testing in medicine is the analysis of cells in populations where cells are routinely destroyed. For example, autoimmune conditions can attack normal and healthy cells, causing a cell viability test to yield very few living cells. Evaluation of cell viability in people with autoimmune disease may help determine progress of a disease or change treatment goals and options.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Spinner — On Apr 29, 2011

CoffeeGirl85 - Yes, women going through IVF endure cell viability tests. The ovaries are stimulated with hormones to produce more eggs. The more eggs that are produced, the better chance there is that some of them will be viable and successfully fertilized. The only method I am aware of for checking for cell viability once the eggs are produced is a process called oocyte (immature egg) selection. This is done prior to fertilization to choose the eggs that have the best chance of leading to pregnancy. The sperm cells are also analyzed via "sperm washing," which removes inactive cells.

By CoffeeGirl85 — On Apr 27, 2011

Is a similar process used for women going through in vitro fertilization? Since eggs are big cells, is this how they check to see if their eggs are viable?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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