How much does cancer research cost? Part I

A lot. Research is expensive. It’s not very environmentally friendly either, a lot of the plastic tubes and things you use are disposable and are thrown away after one use.  There are very good reasons for this often you are working with cells that are irreplaceable and that you’ve worked on for many years. You also want to be sure your results are real and not because of a dirty tube or some other type of contamination. Finally a lot of the chemicals you use are hazardous so the less you handle the used tubes and plastic ware the better.

So just what do scientists spend the money on. I thought I’d write down what an average cell biologist would do in a day and try and work out how much this would all cost, I’ll try and provide links to the equipment manufacturers so you can see the real prices (and check my maths).  When working out the costs I’d add an average £10 delivery charge onto every item because that’s about what it costs (of course it’s more expensive for things that need to be shipped on ice and cheaper for things that you can buy in bulk but it averages out at about £10)


Start work (usually by checking emails) someone needs to supply the computer, often the university that you work for, so I won’t include that in my calculations.

Go to tissue culture and check your cells. Again you need a microscope to do this, usually provided by the University and costing around £1000.

Tissue culture lab coat  (Howie Style)


70% Ethanol to spray down the tissue culture hood

You probably need about 100 mls of this a day so it costs £25,79 for 500ml


5 flasks to hold the cells

I would use T75′s (they have a 75 cm squared growing area) A box of 100 costs £150 (£1.50 a flask) I could easily use 10-30 flasks a week.

5x £1.50 £7.50

Cell Food (DMEM)

You need to feed your cells ever 2-3 days.  There are hundreds of different types of cell food, it depends on the type of cells your are growing and the sort of experiments your are doing.  The food costs about £10 for a 500 ml bottle. You need about 10 -15 ml per flask.  In this experiment I’m using 5 flasks, so I’ll need  50 ml.


Plastic pipettes to feed and wash the cells

I could use 20-100 of these in a day depending on how much tissue culture I had to do. They are £81 for a box of 200 individually wrapped ones. (40p each)

20x 40p =£8

15 ml falcon tubes to transport the protein samples

£102 for 450 tubes, I’d probably use 5-10 tubes if I started with 5 flasks of cells. (22p a tube)

10x 22p £2’20

I’d also need PBS (salty water) to wash my cells, this would cost about 10-20p, but I would have to make it up in advance and autoclave it so it was sterile. I’d also like to use a pipetteman to transfer the liquids, this makes cell culture a lot faster and easier for the scientists, but these cost over £300.

So I would take my cells out of the incubator, wash them,scrape them off the flask, spin them down in a centrifuge and put them on ice. This is about 1-2 hours work.

10:30am Tea break! (but only if your cells are lysed)

Well, I’ve only just got to tea break time I’ve used at least £50 worth of stuff, if you include delivery charges, probably nearer to £60 and I haven’t even started the expensive bit yet…

Do these costs surprise you?  Do you think cancer research is worth the money?


1 comment to How much does cancer research cost? Part I

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Sarah’s Books

If you like these posts buy the book! The most popular posts from this website are available as a book called

Cancer Information for the North East of Scotland 2014-2015”.
Cancer Information Cover WEB

If you are more impressed with the images than the text “A Photobook of Cancer Research” might interest you.