On April 15, 2015 Nature announced a new policy around authentication of cell lines used in research studies that are published in its journals (1). Beginning in May 2015 they are asking all authors to confirm that they are not working on cells known to have been misidentified or cross-contaminated and to provide details about the source and testing of their cell lines.
The problem of cell line misidentification has been well documented in the literature with issues being reported with hematopoietic cell lines in 1999 (2) and a lymphoma cell line in 2001 (3). In 2006, one study suggested that 15–20% cells used in experiments have been misidentified or cross contaminated (4). And, in her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, published in 2010, science writer Rebecca Skloot, notes that concern about cell line contamination dates back to 1958 (5). Promega has written about this problem and the power of STR analysis to assist you in assuring that your cell lines are what they should be (6–9). In fact, as John Masters, Professor of experimental pathology at University College, London points, out, there really is no excuse for the continuing problem of cell line contamination:
“For nearly 50 years, people have been using falsely identified cells totally unnecessarily because they haven’t checked.” (10)
The problem of cell line misidentification and contamination is not a new problem, and the calls for the scientific community to take extra care in understanding the identity of the cells that they are working with are not new either. Nature journals are not the first journals to take a stand to require authors to authenticate their cell lines. Journals including International Journal of Cancer , In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology and Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics previously put policies in place around this issue (11,12), and in 2012 a new standard (ASN-0002) was officially published by the American National Standards Institute regarding human cell line authentication using profiles generated from STRs (11) . Based on the work of the ASN-0002 work group, the International Cell Line Authentication Committee was formed to promote awareness and authentication testing worldwide (13), including creating a publicly available database of misidentified cell lines. However, as more and more high-profile cancer studies are retracted because of cell line issues (14,15), it has become apparent standards for cell line culture and authentication will need to become common place in life science research. Continue reading “Do You #Authenticate?”