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Scientists reverse diabetes in monkeys

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Scientists reverse diabetes in monkeys

Our Review Summary

This television story on pig islet cells being transplanted into monkeys makes a huge leap from a finding in 12 monkeys (some of which rejected the transplant) to “hope for millions of people with diabetes.” And it uses the predictable television approach of finding an 8-year old diabetic and his parents who talk about this being “a huge step.” The story delivered no details of the research findings, didn’t quantify the results or the length of followup. In projecting possible human use, the story failed to address potential risks or costs. If a story is going to project potential benefits, it should offer the balance of potential harms and costs. And it is a critical omission to leave out any mention of potential side effects from powerful immune-suppressing drugs. Finally, it is bad practice for journalists to pass along predictions of being three years away from human testing without giving a basis for that prediction. But that is also a flaw in a single-source story when no independent expert opinion is sought.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No projection of cost was given. Some comparison could have been made based on the current costs of human-to-human islet cell transplants, but the story virtually ignored that angle.

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

Not Satisfactory

As stated above, no details of the study were given.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

As stated above, no details of the study were given.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no data on the trial. Viewers should know this was done in only a dozen monkeys and the followup time was only six months. Some monkeys rejected the cell transplants. These are critical facts. If you’re going to cover animal research and make the leap to possible use in humans, it’s important to tell the whole story.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story says there is “new hope..for millions of people with diabetes.” But even the University’s news release frames this in the context of “tens of thousands of people with difficult-to-manage diabetes.” How did the journalist make the leap from “difficult-to-manage” diabetes to millions?

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

Only the lead researcher was interviewed. No independent expert opinion was used.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Except for a brief mention at the very end, the story seems to ignore islet cell or pancreas transplants from human donors. In addition, there is no discussion of the possible harms and risks from a pig cell islet transplant.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Story explains that human testing is three years away, but that doesn’t allow for any safe prediction of when “experiment” becomes “therapy” and when it would be available for humans. The history of “promising” animal research that didn’t pan out in the transition to human use is long and deep. The story could have made that clear. The story only includes a line from the researcher about more research needed “to make this type of therapy safe.” First, for now it’s an experiment in animals, not a therapy in humans. So it’s not just safety that needs to be shown; it’s effectiveness in people. That note should be emphasized, not hidden.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no context for the history of human islet cell transplants, which are not uncommon. It’s not islet cell transplants that are new; it’s using an animal source that would be new. But even that is not new; other animal-to-animal islet cell transplants have been done.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

There is no evidence that the story relied solely on a news release. But there is also no evidence that any journalistic research or exploration took place.

Total Score: 0 of 9 Satisfactory

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