Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Medical Research Must Come Clean

By Mark Shannon

Up to one-third of cell lines may be contaminated, threatening the reliability of research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Medical research often uses cell lines – cells taken from a human or animal and grown in a laboratory – to evaluate potential therapies. Cultured cells need everything that they’d normally get in nature, but supplied artificially. One wrong step could cause the cells to die.

Another misstep could introduce contaminants to the culture. Microbial contamination, especially by Mycoplasma species, can have major impacts on cell culture results even if there aren’t any visible sign of contamination. Cross-contamination between cell lines may also make experimental results unreliable.

Concern about research reproducibility has grown over the past few years. It’s impossible to know the true extent of the cell line contamination problem today, but up to one-third of cell lines could be affected worldwide.

A few years ago I joined CellBank Australia, our only not-for-profit national cell line repository. I soon learned that while many labs were using CellBank Australia’s validated cell lines and related services, other labs were not aware of the risks of cell line contamination. I wanted to know how we could help, so we asked the scientists themselves and more than 250 responded.

Our survey, published in The International Journal of Cancer ( found...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.