Ethics concerns over ScienceBlogs posting Pepsi nutrition blog

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Step away from the computer for a few hours and who knows what you’ll find upon your return.

I did today – and returned to find a revolt of sorts with top science bloggers “resigning” from the popular and previously respected ScienceBlogs site. Reason: the site started allowing Pepsi to run a nutrition blog.

Some blogging journalists take conflicts of interest very seriously. On the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Paul Raeburn has blogged about this twice today.


In the UK, a column in the Guardian:

“Should have agreed to host a controversial blog on nutrition, written by PepsiCo? No, say the site’s readers, as some of its star bloggers stop their blogs in protest.”

And one of the ScienceBlog contributors, Maryn McKenna, put it succinctly: “A crapstorm ensued.

The topic even has its own hashtag on Twitter: #SbFAIL.

I don’t think I’ve seen journalists react like this since the Gina Kolata front-page story on endostatin maybe 13 years ago. Wow.

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Gregory D. Pawelski

July 8, 2010 at 10:38 am

Ironic that you bring up the Gina Kolata front-page story on endostatin twelve years ago. Goes to show how “time” will tell a different story.
I can understand the disbelief (back then) that endostatin clinical trials had been disappointing, possibly because most clinicians had injected the hormone directly into patients, where the hormone broke down in the body before it had a chance to slow the spread of cancer.
But researchers, like Dr. Veena Antony of the University of Florida, “rethought” the situation years later. She took the time to think through “whiz bang” science that often gets a pass without much thought. The problem is that few scientific discoveries work the way we think and few physicians/scientists take the time to think through what it is they’ve discovered.
What she and her colleagues discovered was that “talc” stimulates healthy cells to produce endostatin, the so-called magic bullet hormone for treating metastatic lung cancer. Endostatin, because of talc is still an exciting new therapeutic agent for cancers largely considered incurable.
In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal in 2007, it revealed that talc causes tumor growth to slow down and actually decrease the tumor bulk. Talc is able to prevent the formation of blood vessels, thereby killing the tumor and choking off its growth. Tumor appeared to grow much slower and in some cases completely disappeared.
How did they accomplish this? They discovered that in patients that accumulate fluid around the surface of the lungs – known as malignant pleural effusion – fluid can press down upon the lung, impair the breathing of the patient and cause the patient to feel very short of breath.
Pleural effusions indicate that the cancer, which might have started in the breast, lung or gastrointestinal tract, has spread throughout the body. The prognosis with this condition is very poor.
To make life more bearable for these patients, doctors close the extra space between the lung and the chest wall, where the troublesome fluid collects. The trick is gluing the two surfaces together. Talc is blown into the patients’ chest cavity to irritate the tissue and create tiny abrasions. When the lung tissue heals, it becomes permanently adhered to the chest wall without impairing the patients’ breathing. The effects of the procedure, called medical thoracoscopy with talc pleurodesis, are immediate and last a lifetime.
The Food and Drug Administration approved talc for use in medical thoracoscopy in 2003. Doctors have noticed that patients who undergo medical thoracoscopy with talcum powder live up to 18 months longer than expected.
Talc has added benefits besides causing scarring and taking away the fluid that surrounds the lung. The cells that cover the lining of the lung are stimulated by the presence of talc to produce a factor that inhibits the growth of blood vessels and kills the tumor cells themselves.
Less than one day after treatment with talc, patients began producing 10-fold higher levels of endostatin, a hormone released by healthy lung cells. Endostatin prevents new blood vessels from forming, slows cell growth and movement, and even induces nearby tumor cells to commit suicide. All of these make it hard for tumors to grow and spread into healthy lung tissue.
What is being done is the normal pleural mesothelial cells continue to produce endostatin. Talc doesn’t go away. Talc stays in the chest cavity, constantly causing the normal cells to produce this factor that inhibits the growth of the tumor. And the antitumor effects of talc appear to be long-lasting.
This work will undoubtedly have a significant influence on future clinical trials dealing with the treatment of pleural malignancies, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and metastatic adenocarcinoma involving the pleural surfaces.
Dr. Antony did receive any journalist reaction. In fact, she is still having a hard time getting funding for the research. Here and there around the world, there are decisions still being made by folks who aren’t in the pockets of American Big Business. Individual intelligence, integrity and curiosity. I wouldn’t doubt if research money is not flowing because the treatment is so cheap. You can’t patent talc!
What drew me to this information with such interest? My wife had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1972, with malignant pleural effusion, a stage IV cancer. She received talc pleurodesis, which was a common treatment modality for patients with maligant pleural effusion, secondary to ovarian cancer. She went twenty-four years before experiencing any recurrent ovarian cancer.
Source: University of Florida

Terry, VP Nutrition Facts

December 14, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I’ve been reading about that Pepsi thing and wasn’t thrilled by it either. I think we should preserve the boundary between science and some soft drink company’s marketing campaign.