MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Serge Horbach MSc
Institute for Science in Society
Radboud University Nijmegen
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Since the late 60s, researchers have pointed to issues in biomedical research stemming from the misidentification of cells. Starting with controversy around HeLa cells, researchers became aware of cells invading other cell cultures. Currently, 488 cell lines have become mixed up with the wrong cells, still often HeLa cells. This leads to errors in reporting research. For example, some research papers have reported results for “lung cancer cells” that turned out to be liver cancer cells, or even mouse cells.
We wanted to know what happened to past research and set out to estimate the number of scientific publications affected by misidentified cells. By tracing misidentified cells of the ICLAC database in Web of Science, we found 32.755 contaminated publications, or 0,8% of all literature in cell biology. These articles are cited by at least 500.000 other publications.
More worryingly, it turned out that this problem is highly stubborn. Currently, still a few dozen new articles are published every month reporting on other cells than were actually used, leading to a total of 1200 each year. And this number is not decreasing, in spite of a database of misidentified cells, of genetic testing availability, requirements by some prominent journals, or attention for the problem in the literature. We were also able to establish that this is not just a problem for newly emergent countries in the international research community, but also for countries with well-establishments research traditions. In spite of great efforts, the problem of cell misidentification is not at all solved.