Agilent Helps Address a Huge Problem in Cancer Research

For years, scientists researching cancer have faced a major obstacle.  Cancer cell lines – populations of cancer cells which are used in all aspects of biomedical research – are not stable.  As new cultures of cancer cells are grown in laboratories, their biological properties and genetic makeup change.  There may be vast genetic differences among propagated cells, even when they are grown from the same batch.

Needless to say, this makes it extremely difficult to study cancer, let alone its causes and possible treatments.

This problem was recently highlighted at the Human Toxome Project.  Scientists there were conducting cell culture work at two independent sites, using identical laboratory protocols and breast cancer cells from the same cell bank and lot numbers.  The cells had been validated using standard methods.

However, the scientists were unable to obtain comparable results between the two sites.  Notably, one of the cell lines was hypersensitive to the hormone estrogen, while the other was not.

Using Agilent gene expression microarrays, the scientists discovered that the two cell lines were actually different, despite being grown from the same batch.  Using Agilent array CGH (comparative genomics hybridization), the scientists confirmed that the two lines had vast differences in their genetic makeup.  In some cases, these differences were as large as entire human chromosomes.

The team estimated that the additional costs of the unplanned experiments and delays to the project totaled around $1 million.

A write-up in Scientific Reports concludes that current methods used to validate cell line authenticity and control changes are not sufficient.  The authors recommend that advanced genomic technologies – such as array CGH – be deployed by cell culture banks to ensure consistency of the cells they provide to the research community.

“Agilent’s array CGH platform is a leading technology used in hundreds of genomic and cytogenetic laboratories worldwide,” says Agilent’s Herman Verrelst.  “We are pleased to see this example of using our technology to increase reproducibility of cell culture research.

“It is striking that a simple array CGH experiment, which costs less than $1,000, could have prevented $1 million in lost research funding and several years of delay.”

This research is the result of work done by Dr. Thomas Hartung, an Agilent Thought Leader.

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