|Origin of the U87MG glioma cell line: Good news and bad news.
The use of in vitro-cultured cells within the biomedical life sciences is an indispensable tool for a variety of fundamental assays. However, examples of using incorrect cell lines in research have been reported for a variety of tumor types. A database maintained by the International Cell Line Authentication Committee (ICLAC) lists over 350 cell lines that have been misidentified or cross-contaminated and publications based on these cell lines. Although many of these have been contaminated by the HeLa cell line, the problem is even more pervasive. In this report, published in Science Translational Medicine, Allen et al. asked two key questions: 1. Have the identity of the donor and the actual tumor origin of the cell line been accurately determined? 2. To what extent does the cell line reflect the phenotype of the tumor type of origin? The authors showed, based on genotyping of short tandem repeat (STR) markers, that the commonly used cell line U87MG, which was established around 1960 in Uppsala, Sweden, does not originate from the patient it is claimed to stem from. Importantly, Nature research journals, AACR publications, and other scientific journals initiated a crucial step forward in quality assurance by requiring cell line authentication using DNA analysis. Nevertheless, the new findings published by Allen et al., demonstrate that it is not suffice to establish the identity of a cell line if the alleged origin of the reference line is unknown or even false, as shown in the case of U87MG. This is an essential point if scientists want to claim that the cells, and thereby the research results, are true representatives of the original tumor.