This is a good read for anyone who’s depending on cell assays to tell them something useful. Longtime cell biologists will know that there have been several upheavals over the years about misidentified or contaminated cell lines. HeLa cells have been involved in several of these, as well as mycoplasma and other unwanted guests.
In fact, you can look back to a comment made back here in the summer. An anonymous commenter noted that:
Unrelated, I’ve always felt a big issue with cancer research has been the cell lines. Decreased funding has labs skimping on the science without them realizing it. I invite you to talk with an academic lab (the postdocs and grad students, not the PI) about where they got their cell lines. Most are “borrowed” from neighboring labs, with contamination along the weigh (cell type and mycoplasm). Very few people are culturing them from mice, the clinic, or buying them from ATCC.
And that’s exactly what Janet Stemwedel’s getting at in that piece linked above, an issue that’s even shown up on NPR. People are cutting too many corners in cell culture – whether by trying to rush results out the door, through unwillingness to spend the money, or just sheer inertia (or unwillingness to face the potential repercussions). What if, as she suggests, the NIH made it part of a grant award to get the all the relevant cell lines in the lab tested?