Cell lines aren't always what they are supposed to be, notes NPR's Richard Harris. A DNA test of a cancer cell line done a few years ago revealed that the supposed breast cancer cell line was, in actuality, a melanoma cell line.
But more than a thousand papers, Harris notes, had been published on the cell line, and despite articles being published revealing its contamination, some researchers continue to use it.
Contamination, he adds, is fairly common, with some studies suggesting that between 18 percent and 36 percent of cell lines are contaminated. But these days, Harries reports, there are more tools to catch it, like DNA testing of the cells.
"We do it routinely because we've made the mistake ourselves in the past," Georgetown University's Robert Clarke says.
Contamination, adds Stephen Ethier from the Medical University of South Carolina, is "actually not a difficult problem to fix."
"The hard part really is overcoming a mind-set in the field on how people work with cell lines," he adds.