to BioTechniques free email alert service to receive content updates.
Study Finds Cell Line Authentication Efforts Still Lacking

Nathan Blow, PhD

Despite increased awareness of cell line contamination problems, a new study of cell culture practices finds that little has changed in the past decade. Read more....

We have all heard the statistics on the growing number of misidentified cell lines floating around research labs and the potential experimental costs this presents for biomedical research. But just how much effort is going towards eradicating this source of experimental error at the lab bench? According to a newly published Letter to the Editor appearing the journal BioTechniques, the answer at the moment seems to be ”not enough.”

“Cell line authentication is essential to producing high-quality biomedical research and ultimately to the discovery of treatments and cures,” said Leonard Freedman, president of Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI), a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing biomedical research. To better understand the current state of cell line authentication efforts in life science research, Freedman, along with colleagues from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), the Medical University of South Carolina, Gilead, Inc., and the Milken Institute, conducted a survey during the spring of 2015 to better understand the habits of researchers who regularly use cell lines in their experiments.

Over half of the 446 total respondents claimed that they never performed cell line authentication or species-related control tests on their cell lines, even though 73% rated themselves as ”expert” or ”above average” cell-culturists. When it comes to using the most widely accepted cell line authentication method, short tandem repeat (STR) profiling, 74% reported that they had never validated their cells using this approach.

The authors next asked survey takers what kept them from performing cell line authentication in their labs. Most researchers (61%) cited cost as the largest barrier to performing authentication experiments, followed by concerns about time and research delay (53% and 35%, respectively). Still other barriers seem to exist at the level of training, with only 62% saying they received any training at all on the problem of cell line contamination and less than 30% saying they were instructed on the importance of cell line authentication as quality control step.

The authors suggest that one positive note from the survey is that 75% of respondents supported the development and use of additional standards as well as expanded training and funding for cell line authentication efforts in the future.

For his part, Freedman sees education as a key step in addressing the problem. “While advancing technology continues to diminish the cost and time constraints cited by most respondents, training researchers is key to making cell authentication routine.”


Freedman, L. et al. 2015. The culture of cell culture practices and authentication – Results from a 2015 survey. BioTechniques, 59 (4): 189-192.