The Rise of Cell Authentication

By Maryellen de Mars
Categories: Cell authentication

HeLa cells 2The issue of misidentified cell lines is nothing new to the scientific community, but recent attention toward addressing this persistent challenge seems to have increased. However, there has been considerable advances in rectifying the problem of irreproducibility in science and promoting the need for standards in addressing this issue:

Awareness: Many times, a cautionary message is only taken seriously when financial risk is a possibility. In the article “The Economics of Reproducibility in Preclinical Research”, Freedman et al. take a deep dive into the economic impact of irreproducibility in science1. The article reported that approximately $28B in the US alone is annually spent on irreproducible pre-clinical research. In looking specifically at cell-based research, Freedman and colleagues observed that while the quality control of cell lines used in biomedical research is essential to ensure reproducibility, misidentification of cell lines remains a serious problem with $100M of research funding having potentially been spent using one misidentified cell line alone2. In efforts to even further increase awareness, the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI) launched the #authenticate campaign to raise awareness around the importance of authenticating cells before, during, and after research.

Implementation: NIH was a key driver of significant progress in implementing changes in developing policies pertaining to the authentication of research materials to drive reproducible science. In 2014, NIH published Principles and Guidelines for Reporting Preclinical Research, which included guidelines for reporting the authentication of cell lines. By 2015, over 130 editors of scientific journals, associations, and societies had agreed to endorse these principles and either require or recommend cell line authentication as a condition for publication. The NIH notice (NOT-OD-15-103) on Enhancing Reproducibility through Rigor and Transparency includes provisions that recommend demonstration of cell line authentication from all investigators applying for Agency funding. The guidelines became effective on January 16, 2016.

ATCC SDO efforts: Through the diligent and much appreciated effort of our work group members, ATCC SDO has recently completed and published the consensus standard: Species-Level Identification of Animal Cells through Mitochondrial Cytochrome c Oxidase Subunit 1 (CO1) DNA Barcodes (ANSI/ASN-0003-2015) for interspecies cell line identification based on sequence technology. We look forward to the wider adoption and use of this authentication tool, which is currently in use by cell banks, core labs, and others. A related standard: ASN-0004-Species-Level Identification and Cross-Contamination Screening in Animal Cells by Multiplex PCR is now in development.

FTA paper and gloved handThrough the combination of increased awareness of the problem, pressure from funding agencies and journal editors to authenticate research material, and the development of effective technology and tools, cell authentication can be a model of progress in supporting reproducibility in science.

  1. Freedman LP, Cockburn IM, Simcoe TS. The Economics of Reproducibility in Preclinical Research. PLoS Biol 13(6): e1002165, 2015.
  2. Freedman LP, et al. Reproducibility: changing the policies and culture of cell line authentication. Nat Methods 12(6): 493-497, 2015.