1. Report this comment

    Achille Dunne said:

    Cell line contamination is a massive problem. Even in high quality institutions, this can be a pervasive issue. In my previous institute we ended up establishing a cell line testing service for this very issue. And, sure enough, in a minority of cases, cell lines were not what researchers thought they were.

    Mandatory testing of cell lines can only improve the quality of data. Whenever lines are brought into a new lab, even from inside an institution, testing should be carried out. Regularly scheduled testing should take place thereafter to ensure no mix ups or contamination have occurred.

    1. Report this comment

      Jim Cooper said:

      I support the opinions expressed by Liz, Achille and Amanda and agree that Ivan Radovanovic et al deserve credit for having the courage to retract their article. Thanks also to Methagora for signposting the resources that ICLAC has made available. What is of particular concern is the fact that Methagora states that for most articles published in Nature Methods cell line identity and Mycoplasma status would not impact on results or findings. Scientists do not work in isolation. This attitude not only propagates the continued use of suspect and potentially dangerous material but also fosters a culture where it is acceptable. This diminishes the efforts of scientists who believe that it does matter, confusing the Best Practice message. In the instance of Radovanovic’s paper; what would impact of developing fluorescent microscopy techniques using a cell line that exhibited autofluoresence? Surely, as scientists, we must adopt an overarching philosophy of scientific validity in our work. If a reagent, cell line or instrument is quoted or specified then that should be what was used. We should either test the identity of the materials or demonstrate provenance. Adopting an attitude of “it doesn’t really matter” does not do Scientists any favours and reinforces publicly held prejudice about our profession. Cell line misidentification not only undermines our credibility; perhaps more importantly, the issue poses a safety hazard. Through misidentification scientists could find themselves unwittingly working with a high containment category cell line whilst believing they were handling a low hazard counterpart. In the case of the Radovanovic retraction the scientists were unaware that they were growing Genetically Modified cultures. In the interests of scientific credibility and our own safety we should all pull together to adopt a zero tolerance policy to this fifty year old issue of misidentified cell lines once and for all.

  2. Report this comment

    Amanda Capes-Davis said:

    Ivan Radovanovic and colleagues deserve recognition for their honesty and integrity in making this retraction. Many thanks also for linking to the International Cell Line Authentication Committee (ICLAC) resources. As a member of the committee it is great to see these being used!

    Given that background, it’s no surprise that I am an advocate of mandatory testing and I think you set out the arguments for that approach very clearly.

    Why mandatory testing? Because cell lines all need to be “named and sourced”.

    ICLAC’s database of misidentified cell lines has 400+ examples where the name attached to a cell line is not correct. You can’t name a cell line with certainty unless you test it for cross-contamination.

    Sure, you can make a case for methods papers not to know which tissue type or disease the cells represent. But at some level, you do need to know which cell line has been used for the work. Or why name it at all?

  3. Report this comment

    liz kerrigan said:

    The ATCC Standards Development Organization (SDO) Workgroup authored a paper in Nature Reviews Cancer in 2010 that presents a history of cell line misidentification, methods and efforts to solve the problem.

    In 2012 the ATCC SDO workgroup published an ANSI approved standard: “Authentication of Human Cell Lines: Standardization of STR Profiling”. The 104 page document delineates a standardized, universally applicable method for identifying human cell lines and primary tissue. Standardization fosters the reproducability and comparability of research employing human cell lines, leading to a marked decrease in the misidentification of human cells used by the scientific community.

    Particularly frustrating is the fact that scientists have known about this problem for more than half a century. Surprisingly, there has been resistance to addressing or even acknowledging the problem. The consequences of using misidentified cell lines have included the retraction of published papers, as mentioned above and the inability to reproduce research results when incorrect cell lines are used, both of which leads to a waste of resources in support of research. Funding bodies and journals need to adopt a policy of zero tolerance and require proof that human cell lines have been correctly identified.