Star Trib deals double dip of premature health hype

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Monday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had two stories that wore the pom-poms of cheerleading better than the ink-stained wretchedness of good journalism.

Back in February, the Star Tribune was among the local Minneapolis-Saint Paul media that hyped an announcement of the reversal of diabetes in a few monkeys over a short term by transplanting insulin-producing cells from pigs.

Monday’s story, “From pigs, a cure for diabetes???? profiled “a Duluth businessman’s vision: cells from pigs … will help U researchers.??? The story said that “In February, a scientist at the U announced that he and other researchers had cured diabetes in monkeys by injecting cells from pigs.??? I don’t recall the scientist ever using the word “cure,??? nor did the University news release.

Even if he did, what does that term mean to readers? If you asked 100 people about a cure for diabetes, what would they say that means? A short-term reversal in some (but not all) animals on which it was tried? I doubt that would be the accepted definition.

The paper also wrote: “The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve clinical trials of the pig islets’ use in humans, but clearance is expected.??? Better not bank on that one until it’s in hand. The trail of tears of expected FDA approvals that never happened is longer than you may think. But if you’re in cheerleading mode, you bet on the hometown team, right?

Then, in Monday’s business section, the Star Tribune had a story, Hypertension implant has promise,??? “reporting that “ a Maple Grove firm’s device to lower stubbornly high blood pressure is attracting attention — and deep-pocket investors, as well.???

The story, also in cheerleading fashion, describes a photo taken during the first human implantation of the device, with a masked surgeon in an operating room holding up a piece of notebook paper on which he’s scrawled, “It works.”

Good science and good journalism demand more than a thumbs up after just one case.

Indeed, the story says the device “still is undergoing clinical trials and has a long way to go to win regulatory approval as being safe and effective.???

The paper quotes a company exec who says it’s too soon to say how much the system might cost, but it’s likely to be between $6,000 – $35,000, with an initial U.S. market of up to 2 million patients.

Hey, how’s that for letting the manufacturer use your newspaper to create demand while setting a narrow price range – only a $29,000 swing in price possibilities!

Couldn’t this story have waited until some more data and evidence were in hand?

Or is this not journalism? Is it cheerleading? You can’t do both.

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