Read Original Story

“U research holds hope for diabetics: A new study raises the potential for an endless supply of insulin-producing cells to cure the disease that affects 20 million Americans.

Rating

2 Star

“U research holds hope for diabetics: A new study raises the potential for an endless supply of insulin-producing cells to cure the disease that affects 20 million Americans.

Our Review Summary

“This story discusses a recent study involving transplantation of pig islet cells to control diabetes in monkeys. The process of transplanting such cells in humans is currently performed by isolating islet cells from a donor pancreas and transplanting them into the liver of diabetics. If successful, transplanted islets sense blood glucose levels and release the appropriate amount of insulin to achieve blood glucose control. Insulin injections are no longer needed in recipients of successful transplants. The journalist here mentions that researchers have already had success temporarily reversing Type 1 diabetes in humans through islet transplantation, however, the demand for islet cells currently outweighs the supply. The journalist mentions prevalence of diabetes, but there is no breakdown of Type 1 vs. Type 2. This research would not affect non-insulin dependent Type 2 diabetics. The story assumes the relative success of transplantation in monkeys will translate to more pig islet cells available for humans with insulin-dependent diabetes. There is no mention of other, more well-tested means of managing Type 1 diabetes. In the study reported here a cross-species transplant was relatively successful in a small group of 12 monkeys, but they were only followed for 6 months and some of the monkeys experienced complications, including rejection of the transplanted cells and pulmonary embolism. The story doesn’t give much attention to the rejection problem, and there is also no discussion of the rate or risk of rejection or other side effects for current islet transplantation in humans. The subheading of the story says these results raise the potential for “an endless supply of insulin-producing cells to cure the disease that affects 20 million Americans””, and the journalist uses terms like “breakthrough” and “cure”; however, results of this and similar studies suggest neither. Considering that testing on humans has not yet even begun, a claim that using pig cells to treat diabetes is “”one step away from humans”” is premature. Lastly, getting a quote from one of the funders of the pig islet research is not getting the perspective of an unbiased source. He has a personal and financial stake in the outcome of the research .

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No information on the cost of treatment of human islet transplantation. The story could have at least included a line like, “it is unclear what the costs would be for similar procedures in humans”.

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

Not Satisfactory

No quantitative evidence of benefit provided from the Nature journal.

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

Not Satisfactory

Only brief mention of rejection of the transplanted cells. No mention of harms to the monkeys in the study, which included pulmonary embolism. There was also no discussion of the rate or risk of rejection or other side effects for current islet transplantation in humans.

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

Not Satisfactory

Minimal discussion of study design and no quantitative evidence provided from the Nature journal on the monkeys and pig islet transplants. Study only conducted in 12 monkeys for this particular study. However, this is not the first research in monkeys.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No evidence of disease mongering. Mentions prevalence of diabetes, but there is no breakdown of Type 1 vs. Type 2. This research would not affect all Type 2 diabetics.

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

Satisfactory

Does not appear to be a conflict of interest for the clinical trial, but quote from Tom Cartier, part funder of the pig islet research is not exactly an unbiased source. He has a personal and financial stake in the outcome of the research and may not be the best source.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The piece mentions that researchers have already had success temporarily reversing type 1 diabetes in humans through islet transplantation, however, the demand for islet cells grossly outweighs the supply. The story assumes the relative success of transplantation monkeys will translate to more pig islet cells available for humans with Type 1. No mention of other, more well-tested means of managing Type 1 diabetes.

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

Not Satisfactory

Pig islet cells to reverse diabetes is not currently being tested in humans. While there is a mention the study was conducted in monkeys, there is much hyperbole in the rest of the piece. One would think from reading the piece that diabetes will be cured via pig islet cells in the very near future, and that the progression in testing is fait accompli.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Portrays the research as “breakthrough”, but research with pig cells for diabetes is not new. There is not yet testing in humans, so claiming a “breakthrough” and that using the cells to treat diabetes is “one step away from humans” is premature as they also mention testing will not even begin for 3 years.

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

Satisfactory

No evidence this is taken directly from a press release and there are several resources for information from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and philanthropic funders.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.