Dec 12, 2015
Scientists, particularly in biology, have faced a continuing embarrassment in recent years: Research results that cannot be proven a second time. By some estimates, more than half of all scientific studies may not be replicable, and billions of dollars are wasted every year on new research that relies on such unreliable studies.
Replicability is a key metric of trustworthiness. If scientists are diligently doing their jobs, why are other researchers not able to reproduce their work? A new study offers an embarrassing explanation: One in six researchers who use human cells in tests have been actually using the wrong cells.
The revelation comes from Amanda Capes-Davis of CellBank Australia (much like a blood bank, cell banks are stores for cell lines) and her colleagues, who meticulously analyzed studies from across the world that reported contamination of cell lines.
A cell line is a population of cells derived from a single cell, which contain the same genetic make up. Cell lines have become the workhorses of medical research, because they can be used in early testing before humans or animals are involved. Disturbingly, the contamination analysis showed that in 2010 some 360 of the cell lines studied were contaminated and by 2014 that number had increased to 438 cell lines. The results of medical studies using these cell lines are now simply worthless.