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Impact of the NCI Cell-Line Database: A Testament to Patient Altruism


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In an homage to the gracious patients who provided biospecimens and to the dedicated researchers who have tended and studied the derived cell lines, James L. Mulshine, MD, of the Center for Healthy Aging, Department of Internal Medicine, Rush University, and colleagues have described the impact of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cell-line database over the past 25 years. The story of this renowned database appears in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, as did the initial description and analysis of the cell lines almost 25 years ago.1,2

James L. Mulshine, MD

James L. Mulshine, MD

The NCI intramural effort resulting in the development of the cell lines and the cell-line database began with lung cancer research and treatment through the NCI–Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Oncology Branch and the NCI–Navy Medical Oncology Branch in the 1970s and 1980s. The authors noted that the vast majority of patients receiving treatment consented to provide their biospecimens for research, stating: “[M]any patients spontaneously expressed that it gave them solace to think that in the future, others could…be spared the devastating consequences of their cancer through their donation of clinical specimens and access to clinical data.”

Impact of Database

The results of years of research included the generation of hundreds of cancer cell lines. In 1996, a supplemental issue of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry was published.2 It contained 22 articles describing the cell lines and providing clinical, molecular, and biologic data on more than 300 lines, primarily lung cancer lines, and approximately 40 autologous B-cell lymphoblastoid lines from some of the same patients who donated lung cancer specimens.

KEY POINTS

  • The NCI cell lines have been associated with more than 14,000 grants and 33,207 published reports and have been the subject of 2.9 million citations.
  • According to the study authors, “[I]t must be underscored…that patient altruism enabled the availability of this invaluable research resource.”

Analysis by the NCI Center for Research Strategy indicates that the cell lines reported in the initial supplement and related products have been used in more than 14,000 grants and 33,207 published reports and have been the subject of some 2.9 million total citations; the global impact of the cell lines is indicated by the fact that authors from 110 countries have contributed to publications citing the cell lines. The cell lines also have been associated with 422 clinical trials and 4,700 patents. Lung cancer cell lines alone have been used in research cited in the development of more than 70 National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology.

Lung cancer cell lines alone have been used in research cited in the development of more than 70 National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology.
— James L. Mulshine, MD

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Further evidence of the impact of the NCI cell lines comes from their use at The University of Texas Southwestern/MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson) to investigate the relationship of oncogenotypes to new immunotherapies for lung cancer. As related by the authors, through the use of preclinical models based on these cell lines, the MD Anderson lung cancer Specialized Center of Research Excellence (SPORE) program has become one of the most productive SPOREs in the history of the initiative, with work resulting in more than 1,100 publications and more than 70,000 citations.

Crucial Role of Donated Specimens

“Patients today are more educated about their cancers and are aware that extraordinary advances have taken place in recent decades with early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of all types of cancers and diseases,” the authors continued. “However, most of society is not aware that patent-donated specimens in general and derived cell lines in particular, along with the shared associated clinical information aggregated in open research databases have been foundational in enabling the rapid pace and the extent of these biomedical transformations, especially in lung cancer. In this regard, the impact of the altruistic gestures of previous clinical research participants has been overlooked. An important motivation for the analysis contained in this manuscript is to celebrate the importance of the many patients who so generously supported the NCI-VA and NCI-Navy open research efforts.” 

DISCLOSURE: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

REFERENCES

1. Mulshine JL, Ujhazy P, Antman M, et al: From clinical specimens to human cancer preclinical models: A journey the NCI-cell line database—25 years later. J Cell Biochem. December 5, 2019 (early release online).

2. Mulshine JL, Johnson BE: NCI-navy human tumor cell line supplement. J Cell Biochem 24(suppl):1-302, 1996.


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