Primary Airway Cell Biobank

McGill University, Montréal, Quebec
Area(s) of Expertise

First of its kind in Canada, the Primary Airway Cell Biobank (PACB) is a non-profit facility providing researchers worldwide with standardized, high- quality primary airway cells from healthy lungs and donors with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and other respiratory diseases.

Highly differentiated primary epithelial cells are considered the gold standard for in vitro studies of airway epithelial physiology, pathophysiology, cell biology, inflammation, mucosal immunity, and for translational research to develop new therapeutics. While immortalized cell lines are used by many laboratories, they lack the genetic variation found in human populations and do not fully differentiate into ciliated, goblet and other cell types found in vivo. Primary cells cultured at the air-liquid interface closely mimic the airway epithelium and are more useful for testing hypotheses related to mechanisms of disease pathogenesis and the preclinical development of new therapeutics.

Primary human bronchial epithelial cells are available from a few commercial vendors, however, our prices are lower and we perform extensive quality control, including routine culture of every batch on porous supports and histological examination after 4 weeks in ALI to assess differentiation, assay of CFTR function in Ussing chambers (forskolin responses with / without pretreatment with a common CFTR corrector and potentiator). Also, every preparation is safety tested by an independent diagnostic lab for HIV-1, HIV-2, Hepatitis A virus, Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, Hantavirus Hantaan, SEO (Hantavirus), mycoplasma, human T-cell Lymphotropic virus (HTLV; performed on CF cells only). CF cells are also checked for their CFTR genotype.

Cells distributed by PACB, isolated from a large variety of donors with different genetic backgrounds, provide a vital resource for improving our understanding of CF and other respiratory diseases and for translational research to develop new therapeutic agents.

The PACB is a biobank certified by the UBC Office of Biobank Education and Research Biobank Certification Program.

What the facility does

Not-for-profit facility providing standardized, high-quality primary airway cells from normal and airway diseased donors.

Research Services
  • Cryovials of high quality frozen HBE cells
  • Highly-differentiated HBE cells on porous supports
  • Primary cell cultures in plastic flasks
  • Specialized cell culture media prepared in-house at greatly reduced cost (i.e. BEGM, ALI)
  • Transepithelial electrophysiological measurements (i.e. for drug discovery project) can be performed routinely under contract
  • Personalized technical support service
Sectors of Application
  • Environmental technologies and related services
  • Life sciences, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment
Name of specialized lab 

Name of equipment in use

Description of function
Hanrahan Lab 2x Biological Safety Cabinet Cell culture hood
  3x Incubators Cell incubators
  Automated cell counter Countess™ Cell counter
  Compound microscope Cell visualization
  Benchtop sterilizer Instrument sterilizer
  Benchtop centrifuge Centrifuge for cells
  Water bath Warm up media
  Cryosystem Cryoextra 20 Long term cell storage -180oC
  • McGill University
  • CR-CHUM
  • IRCM (Institut de Recherche Clinique de Montréal)