CBS claims exclusive but leaves vital info out of heart stem cell story

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It’s great to be first. But it’s better to be complete, balanced, and helpful with your news.

CBS claimed an “exclusive” with a report on the “first person ever to get an infusion of his own heart stem cells” to try to avoid future problems after a heart attack.

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OK, they had the exclusive report that the procedure was done.

But they didn’t make clear that:

  • There is currently nothing known about the benefits of this approach in people. That simply wasn’t emphasized in the story.
  • Instead, it was referred to as a “cutting edge” clinical trial. Are there non-cutting-edge clinical trials?
  • It was called a “major advance.”
  • It was called a “trailblazing procedure.”
  • But the onscreen graphic continuously trumpeted it as a “CBS Evening News Exclusive.”

The segment was clear that this treatment is experimental, but the failure to discuss potential risks, potential harms, costs involved, and current treatment options available to patients were huge omissions.

For anyone who really wants to learn about this area of research, the National Institutes of Health has a website describing the current state of the art. It contains questions we wish the CBS segment had explored, such as (excerpt follows):

“What are the implications for extending the research on differentiated growth of replacement tissues for damaged hearts? There are some practical aspects of producing a sufficient number of cells for clinical application. The repair of one damaged human heart would likely require millions of cells. The unique capacity for embryonic stem cells to replicate in culture may give them an advantage over adult stem cells by providing large numbers of replacement cells in tissue culture for transplantation purposes. Given the current state of the science, it is unclear how adult stem cells could be used to generate sufficient heart muscle outside the body to meet patients’ demand.

Although there is much excitement because researchers now know that adult and embryonic stem cells can repair damaged heart tissue, many questions remain to be answered before clinical applications can be made. For example, how long will the replacement cells continue to function? Do the rodent research models accurately reflect human heart conditions and transplantation responses? Do these new replacement cardiomyocytes derived from stem cells have the electrical-signal-conducting capabilities of native cardiac muscle cells?”

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