FIMS Publications


Widespread use of misidentified cell line KB (HeLa): Incorrect attribution and its impact revealed through mining the scientific literature

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American Association for Cancer Research


Continuous cell lines are widely used, but can result in invalid, irreproducible research data. Cell line misidentification is a common problem that can be detected by authentication testing; however, misidentified cell lines continue to be used in publications. Here we explore the impact of one misidentified cell line, KB (HeLa), on the scientific literature. We identified 574 articles between 2000 and 2014 that provided an incorrect attribution for KB, in accordance with its false identity as oral epidermoid carcinoma, but only 57 articles that provided a correct attribution for KB, as HeLa or cervical adenocarcinoma. Statistical analysis of 57 Correct and 171 Incorrect articles showed that the number of citations to these articles increased over time. Content analysis of 200 citing articles showed there was a tendency to describe the cell line in accordance with the description in the cited paper. Analysis of journal impact factor showed no significant difference between Correct and Incorrect groups. Articles using KB or citing that usage were most frequently published in the subject areas of pharmacology, pharmacy, oncology, and medicinal chemistry. These findings are important for science policy and support the need for journals to require authentication testing as a condition of publication.