Human Cell Lines and BBP Standards

Main Content

**Source: June 21, 1994 OSHA Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letters entitled "Applicability of 1910.1030 to establish human cell lines."**

As you know, the Bloodborne Pathogens standard (BPS) provides protection to employees who have occupational exposure to human blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). Established human cell lines* which are characterized** to be free of contamination from human hepatitis viruses, human immunodeficiency viruses, and other recognized bloodborne pathogens, are not considered to be OPIM and are not covered by BPS. Established human or other animal cell lines which are known to be or likely infected/contaminated with human microbes or agents classed as bloodborne pathogens, especially hepatitis viruses and human immunodeficiency viruses are covered by the BPS. The final judgement for making the determination that human or other animal cell lines in culture are free of bloodborne pathogens must be made by a Bio-safety Professional or other qualified scientist with the background and experience to review such potential contamination and risk, in accordance with the requirements of the BPS. Documentation that such cell lines are not OPIM should be a matter of written record and on file with the employer for OSHA review.

All primary human cell explants from tissues and subsequent in vitro passages of human tissue explant cultures (human cell "strains" ***) must be regarded as containing potential bloodborne pathogens and should be handled in accordance with the BPS. Non-transformed, human cell "strains", characterized by documented, reasonable laboratory testing as described in the attachment, to be free of human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis viruses, or other bloodborne pathogens may be exempted from the standard's requirements. However, if such tissue explants or subsequent cultures are derived from human subjects known to carry bloodborne pathogens, such as hepatitis viruses or human immunodeficiency viruses or are deliberately infected with bloodborne pathogens, they must be handled in accordance with the precautions noted in the BPS. Likewise, animal tissues, explants or cell cultures known to be contaminated by deliberate infection with human immunodeficiency virus or Hepatitis B virus are also subject to the BPS.


All laboratory work with primary human tissues or body fluids is covered by the BPS.


Human Cell Line*

A Human Cell Line is defined as in vitro or animal passaged (e.g., nude mouse) cultures or human cells that fulfill traditional requirements of a cell line designation. That is, the cells are immortalized cells, transformed by spontaneous mutation or natural or laboratory infection with an immortalizating agent such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is a bloodborne pathogen. It should be noted that human cervical carcinoma cells or other transformed human cell lines like HeLa cells are sometimes adulterated with laboratory pathogens accidentally introduced by cultivation with other cell cultures, or physically contaminated by other cell cultures handled in the same lab. In order to handle human HeLa cells, without having to comply with the requirements of the bloodborne pathogens standard (BPS), human HeLa cells should be documented to be pure HeLa cells and shown to be free of bloodborne pathogens by testing.

Characterization of Human Cells**

Characterization of human cells, for inclusion or exclusion from compliance with the BPS, would include screening of the cells lines or "strains" for viruses characterized as bloodborne pathogens by the Standard, including human immunodeficiency viruses, hepatitis viruses or EBV, if the cells are capable of propagating such viruses. Most cell lines are screened for human mycoplasmas and are free of bacterial and mycotic contaminants. Testing may include antigenic screening for viral or agent markers, co-cultivation with various indicator cells that allow contaminants to grow, or using molecular technology (polymerase chain reaction or nucleic acid hybridization) to identify latent viruses capable of infecting humans such as Herpesviruses(e.g., EBV), or papilloma members of the Papovavirus group, etc. Cell lines that are procured from commercial vendors or other sources with documented testing to be free of human bloodborne pathogens and which have been protected by the employer from environmental contamination may be excluded from the BPS.

Human Cell Strains***

Human cell strains are defined as cells propagated in vitro from primary explants of human tissue or body fluids which have finite lifetime (non-transformed) in tissue culture for 20-70 passages. Human cell "strains" must be handled as potential biohazards unless characterized by testing to be free of bloodborne pathogens (i.e., WI-38 cells are often so documented).