Cell biology Ethics Intelligent Design Peer review

Could more than 30,000 biomed studies be suspect due to contaminated cells?

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Yes. From Peter Dockrill at Science Alert:

Of the 451 cell lines known to be compromised, the most famous contaminating source is what’s known as HeLa cells, named after their source, Henrietta Lacks.

In 1951, this 31-year-old mother of five from Virginia died from cervical cancer. But during treatment before her death, cells were taken from Lacks’ cervix in a biopsy without her consent.

Later, cell biologist George Otto Gey discovered these cells could be kept alive and grow indefinitely in a lab – as such, HeLa cells became the first immortalised cell line, meaning they didn’t eventually die due to cellular senescence.

That everlasting quality made them a valuable research specimen that was distributed across the world, ultimately contributing to the development of cell cloning, the polio vaccine and many other firsts.

It’s estimated as many as 20 tonnes of HeLa cells were ultimately grown, with the discovery featuring in a stunning 11,000 patents, but the cells’ undying nature came with a hidden cost.

Not only do the cells proliferate, they can also contaminate other exposed cell cultures in laboratory setting, and due to decades of use and misuse in the lab, HeLa cells and other contaminating and immortal cells have been estimated to have tainted up to 36 percent of cell lines scientists use in research. More.

This is in addition to all the problems with peer review today.

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See also: Peer review “unscientific”: Tough words from editor of Nature

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Crisis in replication

One Reply to “Could more than 30,000 biomed studies be suspect due to contaminated cells?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Aside from the quality problems and contamination, why did anyone think that extremely unusual immortal cells should be taken as a model for ordinary mortal cells?

    ‘Because it’s there’ works for thrill-seekers but it shouldn’t be a motto for replicable science.

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