Albumin has a long historical involvement in design of media for the successful culture of mammalian cells, in both the research and commercial fields. The potential application of albumins, bovine or human serum albumin, for cell culture is a by-product of the physico-chemical, biochemical and cell-specific properties of the molecule. In this review an analysis of these features of albumin leads to a consideration of the extracellular and intracellular actions of the molecule, and importantly the role of its interactions with numerous ligands or bioactive factors that influence the growth of cells in culture: these include hormones, growth factors, lipids, amino acids, metal ions, reactive oxygen and nitrogen species to name a few. The interaction of albumin with the cell in relation to these co-factors has a potential impact on metabolic and biosynthetic activity, cell proliferation and survival. Application of this knowledge to improve the performance in manufacturing biotechnology and in the emerging uses of cell culture for tissue engineering and stem cell derived therapies is an important prospect.