Date added: 24/11/2017 The Ghosts of HeLa: Misidentified Cell Lines Used in 32,000+ Publications


The Ghosts of HeLa: Misidentified Cell Lines Used in 32,000+ Publications

Horbach SPJM, Halffman W
Image credit: Horbach SPJM, Halffman W

Misidentified cell lines were first reported fifty years ago, when Stanley Gartler discovered that a panel of commonly used human cell lines was actually HeLa.

How many papers use misidentified cell lines?

Fifty years after their discovery, is the situation improving?

Serge Horbach and Willem Halffman decided to find out.

Using the list of misidentified cell lines maintained by the International Cell Line Authentication Committee (ICLAC), they examined usage of 451 misidentified cell lines with no known authentic stock..

These misidentified cell lines – which the authors refer to as the “Ghosts of HeLa” – are used in more than 32,000 journal articles. .

Usage continues to increase, with approximately 1,200 articles per year since 2010. Highly used misidentified cell lines include HEp-2 (reported as laryngeal cancer but actually HeLa), KB (reported as oral cancer but actually HeLa), and MDA-MB-435 (reported as breast cancer but actually melanoma)..

Misidentified cell lines are used particularly in the fields of oncology, biochemistry/molecular biology, pharmacology and cell biology. .

What can be done about this long-standing problem? .

Some journals and funding bodies require authors to authenticate their cell lines, but the majority do not, allowing use of misidentified cell lines to continue. .

Horbach and Halffman call for all articles that use misidentified cell lines to be tagged with an Expression of Concern to improve transparency.