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Venerable brain-cancer cell line faces identity crisis

Biomedical scientists are often urged to check that their cell lines are not contaminated or mislabelled. But as a new study shows, any effort to authenticate a cell line is only as good as the reference standard against which the cells are compared.
A cell line that is widely used to study brain cancer does not match the cells used to create the line nearly 50 years ago, or the tumour purported to be its source, researchers report on 31 August inScience Translational Medicine1. In fact, no one is quite sure of the true provenance of the cell line distributed by most cell repositories.
“It is a good cautionary tale to say, ‘Question your assumptions and do as many appropriate controls as you can to make sure you really have what you think you have,’” says Jon Lorsch, director of the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.