What were the top 100 cited cell lines of 2021?


Min Read

In this blog:

  • Who is the leading supplier in the cell lines market?
  • Which cell lines are most popular amongst researchers?
  • What was the species breakdown of the top cited cell lines?

For the third blog in our top 100 product series, we take a look at the most popular cell lines of 2021. You can also take a look at our more recent analysis on the top 100 cell lines of 2022 here.

In case you missed it, we have looked at the top 100 protein research reagents and the top 100 antibodies over the last couple of weeks – do check them out!

This is now the second year we have analysed the top 100 cell lines (covering cell line products from commercial and academic repositories), so we were interested to see how the data and trends have changed from what we uncovered last year. 

In this blog we cover the leading cell lines, suppliers and the species breakdown from our cell lines data. 

So, who is leading this market, and what trends did we see in cell line usage?

Infographic showing key analysis on the top 100 cell lines of 2021

What data is this analysis based on?

High quality citation data for cell lines is carefully curated and collected using our text mining technology and human reviewing process to give a unique view of the market.

Our experimental models dataset, from which this section of data is taken, has over 200,000 products with over 210,000 citations from nearly 80 suppliers. 

The complete experimental models dataset encompasses: cell lines, tissues, lysates and animals. As our newest dataset, we see great potential for it to help many more suppliers.

What were the most popular cell lines of 2021?

The most popular cell line of 2021 was HEK293T (CRL-3216) provided by ATCC. This remains unchanged from last year, proving its importance in many types of medical research and as a model for cell biology. This popular immortalised cell line contains the SV40 T-antigen and is derived from the HEK293 embryonic kidney cell line.

HeLa cell image
License: CC-BY, Credit: HeLa cells LM. Kevin Mackenzie, University of Aberdeen

In the top 100 list there are five cell lines derived from HEK293 cells, together totalling a >10% share of the citations in 2021. 

Other cell lines featuring in the top 100 include VERO lineage cells and HeLa cells. 

VERO cells took second and third place in the top 100 list in 2021, with product codes CRL-1586 and CCL-81 respectively. These cells are derived from the kidney epithelium of the African Green Monkey and are useful tools in the research and development of vaccines. 

The publication of many COVID-19 papers could be driving the increase in citations we see for these cell lines. Cell line CRL-1586 in particular rose from 7th most cited in 2020 to 2nd most cited in 2021, with many recent publications being related to SARS-CoV-2 research. We also noticed, however, that there was one fewer VERO cell line in the top 100 list compared to last year.

We found that popular HeLa cells, HeLa (ATCC® CCL-2), has seen decreasing popularity in research as they moved down in the top 100 list by two places, from second in 2020 to fourth in 2021. 

Last year we predicted the entry of Sf9 cells from Thermo Fisher Scientific to enter the top 100 product list. We saw this come to fruition in 2021, as they entered the list at position 91. This is a popular insect cell line for recombinant protein expression, seeing increasing use in research.

Which supplier dominates the cell line market?

By quite some margin, ATCC provided the most popular and well-used cell lines for research in 2021.

ATCC, a non-for-profit established nearly 100 years ago, supply thousands of continuous cell lines to researchers largely based in the US.

Strikingly, ATCC hold 97% of the top 100 cell lines, completely dominating this market. This is a trend continuing on from last year when we analysed the top 100 cell lines of 2020, and found that ATCC held 96 of the top 100 products and an 88% citation share of the overall market. We will be continuing to expand our data collection for this reagent type and we will analyse the data year on year to see if their dominance continues.

Also featured in this dataset are Thermo Fisher Scientific with two insect derived cell lines (Sf9 and High Five Cells), and DSMZ with one product in the top 100.

Recently, we analysed the cell products market and looked at supplier share, the percentage of total citations held by each supplier. We found further success for DSMZ in this market segment, as they featured in the top 5 with a citation share of <3%. Interestingly, DSMZ, like ATCC, is a not-for-profit organisation.

Cell line species metadata

As part of our efforts to expand and improve the cell line data, this year we began collecting cell line species metadata. We have collected this data for 99% of the cell lines listed on CiteAb.

Below we break down the top 100 products by their species allocation. We found that 66% of the top 100 cell lines were human derived – the vast majority! Following behind with 18% of the cell lines was the mouse species.

Species metadata pie chart for the top 100 most cited cell lines of 2021 from various cell line suppliers
Species metadata for the top 100 cell lines of 2021

We will be interested to see how this data changes in the coming year as we continue to collect citations and categorise cell lines by species.

Up next…

Check back in on our blog for the next blog in the top 100 series – the top 100 lipids. Do get in touch if you have any further questions about this data or the analysis, and take a look for yourself by simply signing up to download the free sample data below. 

  • Rhys and the CiteAb team

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