Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Media Misses the Point on Stem Cell Therapy

Dr. Peter Saunders advises Brits not to bother to read the BBC on stem cell therapy.  Here's what he has to say:

Reading the reports about the new embryonic stem cell trial for spinal cord injury that have been all over the BBC and the British papers today I am struggling to know what all the fuss is about and why in fact it is even news at all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is causing such excitement for five main reasons:

1.Our media are obsessed with any story involving embryonic stem cells despite the fact that these entities have not yet provided any treatments for any human disease after more than ten years of hype (By contrast adult and umbilical stem cells have already provided treatments for over 80 diseases – see my Triple Helix review)

2.Because there is ethical controversy in their use (as harvesting them involves the destruction of human embryos) it provides an opportunity for the media to revive the myth that religious zealots are trying to hold back scientific advance and stop millions of people being cured from terrible diseases.

3.The science correspondents writing for our national newspapers seem not to read medical journals any more but simply regurgitate press releases produced by commercial companies (like Geron) who wish to promote their products and improve their public image.

4.Geron have lots of money (they have already spent $170m developing this ‘treatment’) and a very good PR machine.

5.British scientists are worried about research funding in the current economic climate and so are trying to attract public and media attention in the hope of attracting grants so they are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible politicians and members of the public with exaggerated claims.

If you go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website which logs current clinical trials you will find there are 3,124 listings of trials involving adult stem cells and 141 involving umbilical stem cells. These therapies are increasingly well established and pose no ethical problems (and so are of little interest to the British media).

By contrast today’s story is of the first clinical trial involving embryonic stem cells after over a decade of breath-holding.

There are no results yet and no scientific papers yet published in any peer-reviewed journals.

Read it all here.

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