Misidentified Cells

Uncertainty about the identity of Hep2 Cell Lines?

Dr. Thorsten S. Beck

Photographic Collage Illustration




Misidentified cells quickly become a form of de facto contamination in lab sciences. In 1966, a geneticist and professor at the University of Washington proclaimed that cells he was working with appeared to be contaminated. In 2015, Christopher Korch looked into the issue, and concluded that “nearly 5,800 articles in 1,182 journals may have confused HeLa for HEp-2, and another 1,336 articles in 271 journals may have mixed up HeLa with INT 407”. (Oliver, 2018) More than 30,000 publications are said to use misidentified cell lines.


There is no reason to think that scientists deliberately misidentify cells, but once the misidentification has taken place, the problem spreads, since the samples themselves are a form of living data. Precisely how best to warn people about the problem is itself unclear. Retractions seem overly harsh in papers where some uncertainty still exists about the scope and effect of the problem. Published “expressions of concern” are one possible solution (McCook, 2017), but professors and research leaders need also to warn their doctoral students and staff.




McCook, Alison. “Estimate: Nearly 33,000 Papers Include Misidentified Cell Lines. Experts Talk Ways to Combat Growing Problem.” Retraction Watch, October 20, 2017. https://retractionwatch.com/2017/10/20/estimate-nearly-33000-papers-include-misidentified-cell-lines-experts-talk-ways-combat-growing-problem/.


Oliver, Tamlyn. “Combating Misidentified and Contaminated Cell Lines.” Biocompare, June 11, 2018. https://www.biocompare.com/Editorial-Articles/348977-Authenticate-Combating-Misidentified-and-Contaminated-Cell-Lines/.


Oransky, Ivan and Adam Marcus. “Thousands of Studies Used the Wrong Cells, and Journals Are Doing Nothing.” STAT, July 21, 2016. https://www.statnews.com/2016/07/21/studies-wrong-cells/.


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