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Cell line switcheroo

Three cell lines that were claimed to represent samples of esophogeal cancers really don’t, but have been used in patent filings, grant applications and even research that has led to clinical trials.

The cell lines actually contained tissue from other tumors.

The finding, reported last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has disturbed scientists whose work depended on the lines.

“It’s a startling and somewhat alarming finding that the cell lines we thought represented specific entities actually do not,” cancer biologist Ezra Cohen told The Scientist, which reports that Cohen “was heading up a clinical trial based partially on experiments conducted with one of the three contaminated EAC cell lines at the time these results became known to the field a few months ago.”

The BBC reports that the authors of the JNCI study recommend that “use of the drug sorafenib for some oesophageal cancer patients should be reconsidered, since the wrong cell line was used to assess its potential.”

The problem is not unique to esophogeal cancer, as over the past two and a half decades, “numerous studies, as well as the experience of cell-culture repositories in the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, have found that 18–36% of cultures contain a misidentified species or cell type,” according to a Nature editorial published last year.

That’s part of the reason why some researchers not associated with the study were unsurprised by the findings.

“From the scientific point of view, it’s not a huge deal, but it’s certainly something you’re glad you found out,” Charles Saxe, scientific director of the Program in Cancer Cell Biology and Metastasis at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, told Business Week. “This probably doesn’t surprise anybody. The surprise is probably that there were only three.”

Saxe further told Business Week that the signalling pathways studied with the contaminated cell lines are common to many types of cancer, so, reports Amanda Gardner, “it’s not inconceivable that research results done in these ‘bogus’ cell lines would be equally valid for esophageal adenocarcinoma.”


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