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Examining stem cell activity in petri dishes and in rats doesn’t put us in shouting distance of a treatment for tendons

Stem cells may significantly improve tendon healing by regulating inflammation

Our Review Summary

A basic study of the ability of stem cells to “regulate” inflammation in tendons seems promising enough to invite further research into the role stem cells might play in this important piece of body scaffolding. But examining stem cell activity in petri dishes and in rats does not get us within shouting distance of a treatment. The news release acknowledges the early stage of this work, but its headline heralds the study’s findings in ways that will encourage readers to anticipate help sooner rather than later.

 

Why This Matters

Injured tendons heal at an extremely slow pace, sidelining many people for months at a time. If inflammation is a major reason for this, then a treatment that addresses that problem would be of interest to active Americans and those who treat them. However, it’s premature to draw conclusions about the potential of treating inflamed tendons with stem cells based on this very preliminary work.

Because of the rise in health news about stem cells we’ve written some tips for communicating stem cell research.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

This is basic research, so no one is in a position to talk about specific costs. But when a release broaches therapy as a likely goal, as is the case, then it indeed needs to speak to cost. Such treatments run into the thousands of dollars, with iffy participation by insurance companies.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The release briefly notes two findings: that human stem cells in petri dishes, prodded by proteins that promote inflammation, expressed genes involved in regulating inflammation, and that inflamed rat tendons exposed to stem cells demonstrated improvement.  But without further study details, we have little idea of what to make of these results.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Since the release’s main source does reference the possibility of these findings leading to future treatment methods, the release really should offer some information about the possible harms of stem cell applications, which include immune reactions and even cancer.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The release doesn’t tell us much about how the study was carried out.

We wish the release would have highlighted the limitations of the research — the main one being that it hasn’t been tested outside of the lab. How this treatment might apply to people remains unclear and the release should have made this clear.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here. Inflamed tendons make life miserable for many folks, who find that this type of injury is very slow to heal.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The quoted expert source in the release is identified clearly as a co-investigator of the study, but we can find no information in the release about funding sources or possible conflicts of interest.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Alternatives to the use of stem cells for treating inflamed tendons get no space in this text. Standard therapies including physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medicines are not mentioned.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The release doesn’t provide any indication when a therapy might be available — if ever. This very preliminary basic research has a long research path ahead.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The release makes a claim of novelty with this statement: “Many would have predicted that tendon healing is inflammation-linked,” said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, “but that the anti-inflammatory roles of TSCs could be so potent, and so amplifiable, is a striking finding.”

It also suggests the research is a building block for future research. A co-principle investigator is quoted saying the work is “an important foundation for the development of a new treatment.”

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Satisfactory

The release doesn’t engage in sensational language. However, the release headline and some of the quotes by researchers appear more optimistic than warranted based on the preliminary nature of the work.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

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