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The importance of ancestry and

diversity in cell line collection and

analysis for people of African ancestry

Simone Badal, The University of the West Indies, Mona


any drug leads for cancer treatment have emerged

from the application of preclinical studies that have

utilized cancer cell lines as 2D and 3D models and

as xenografts in specialized mouse models. The application

of cell lines in cancer research spans more than 70 years,

a period that has generated many discoveries in cancer

treatment towards improved patient survivorship (1). Yet,

the methodologies employed to generate cell lines remain

lacking given the less than 10% success rates. This continues

to stifle the advancement of cell lines; a requisite for the

optimal application of these preclinical tools. While cell lines

continue to pave the way for drug discoveries, the genetic

drift encountered from the incessant propagation in vitro

is an area warranting attention to advance drug leads with a

personalized approach.

Cell lines representative of myriad tumours across various

ethnicities are crucial to this end. Research by Barretina et al. (2),

and Garnet et al. (3), have together shown gene-drug specificity

across more than 1,000 cell lines exposed to almost 150

anticancer drugs. Similar findings were obtained by the NCI60 study (4) whereby

various cell line panels representative

of different cancer subtypes yielded more effective drug

leads than the usage of single cell lines for different cancers.

Cell line panels typically provide representation of different

tumour subtypes for specific cancers, and these are believed

to be more effective in drug prediction than single cell lines

(1). Of the two main global suppliers for cell lines, American

Type Culture Collection (ATCC) and The European Collection

of Authenticated Cell Cultures (ECACC), cell line panels

are only offered by ATCC, and of the 24 panels (Figure 1),

representation for Blacks is only observed among three. While

ECACC does not offer specific cell line panels, their offering of categories of different types of cancers (Table 1) shows

majority representation for Caucasians as of September 2021.

The questions surrounding cancer disparities has forced

an inquest into in vitro research models. Both socioeconomic

factors and biological drivers play a role in the higher incidence

and mortality rates for Black men and women with cancer.

African American men have 25% higher incidence and 43%

higher mortality rates than White American men with cancer

(5). Although, African American women have lower cancer

incidence rates than White American women, they have a

20% higher mortality rate (6). In general, the top two cancers

of concern for African American men are prostate and lung

while for African American women, they are breast and lung.

Similar trends are observed in the Caribbean and Africa (7).

Of these cancers of concern (breast, lung and prostate), Black

representation among the ATCC cell line panel is only observed

for breast cancer and among the various cancer cell lines

(colorectal, esophageal and neurobiology) offered by ECACC,

there are no known representation for Blacks.

The most emphasized cancer disparity is observed for

prostate cancer, especially in light of the global decline in

mortality rates irrespective of the pervasive incidence and

mortality rates for Black men in the Caribbean and Africa (7)

and the two and a half times higher mortality rates for African

American men compared to European American men (8). One

could argue that Blacks tend to make up most of the lower

income status population but even when assessed grade for

grade and stage for stage, survivorship for Whites is better

than Blacks (7). Despite the observed disparity, no prostate

cancer cell line panel exists for Blacks among the ATCC cell

line panel (9). Moreover, more than 97% of the prostate cancer

cell lines available at ATCC are Caucasian in origin. If cell lines

People of European ancestry tend to receive greater benefit from anticancer treatments than

people of African ancestry. The recent attention on these different outcomes in patients globally

with cancer is uncovering potential sources for these biases as significantly poor representation

persists for Blacks when using cell line models. Similar observations are seen at the clinical level.

To close the gaps and to ensure equal benefit for both Blacks and Whites with cancers, increased

representation of cell lines needs to be achieved. A focused push from funding agencies, journal

editors and policymakers can aid in this outcome.


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