An article in Discover Magazine details some of the practices that occurred for 50 years in cancer research that both slowed and misled cancer research for decades. In cancer research, scientists use cancer cell lines (cells that contain a particular type of cancer) taken from tumors infected with the cancer in order to test possible treatments. The problem is that it is very easy for these cell lines to become contaminated, thereby changing the characteristics of the cell line. For years scientists used contaminated cell lines for their research, with numerous publications occurring based on false lines.
While researchers were aware that there were contaminated lines being used, they were hesitant to have their own lines tested for fear of discovering that they too were using contaminated lines, which could end their research career. However, the repercussions of using contaminated cell lines in cancer research are severe. Not only does it slow the progress of discovering treatments for cancer, it can also lead to ineffective treatments being used on patients because the laboratory experiments that indicated the success of the treatment were based on false pretenses. While all scientific research relies on a high level of integrity, it is especially important that there is integrity in the medical field, especially cancer research.
Things are improving in the cancer research sector. Whereas historically no journals required an authentication of cell lines in order to be published, now at least 22 journals require authentication before a paper can be published. The International Cell Line Authentication Committee was also created to help ensure that contaminated cell lines are not being used in future research studies. Despite advances in authentication requirements, however, there is still a need for integrity among researchers to ensure that studies are conducted properly and results are accurate and reliable.