Unlike the other two stories, this one takes too long to tell readers just how small the study really was. It does not bring in any outside experts to help put the research into context. Nor does it establish the novelty of the treatment, discuss the availability or even mention the potential costs. Because of this missing information, the story actually presents a more enthusiastic view of the research than the press release.
Up high in the story, one of the researchers is quoted saying, "this approach could help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for a donated human cornea for transplantation," and the rest of the story makes no effort to explain how much more research would need to be done nor how significant the barriers would be in most of the world in terms of medical staffing, surgical equipment and training for this type of procedure. There’s a reason that human corneal transplants don’t reach everyone in the world who is blind, and it’s not just a shortage of corneas. This story, and most of the coverage of this study, presents this study as a breakthrough with huge public health implications globally. If this reporter or the others had called an organization such as Unite for Sight or the Lions Club International, they would have been able to provide readers with the appropriate notes of caution to temper some of the hype.
There is no discussion of costs. Again, charitiable organizations who work in this area could have provided some ballpark figures for human corneal transplants. The researchers claim in another story that this option would be cheaper. At a minimum, a dollar figure would have been good context.
Like the other two stories reviewed, this reporter made the smart choice of avoiding the use of percentages in explaining the benefits. It would have been easy to say that 60% of the patients had improved vision, which sounds more impressive than six of the 10. More numbers and more context would have been ideal, but, given the size of the study, the amount of explanation of the potential benefits is adequate.
The last sentence of the story says, "Fagerholm said the patients in this trial had no problems with rejection and did not need long-term immune suppression drugs to help their bodies accept the corneas." This is about as much space as any of the stories devoted to the harms. It would have been nice to see a little more detail here, but, if after two years there were not any side effects, this is a satisfactory quantification.
This story does a better job than the other two stories of explaining the science behind cornea transplants. But, the story focuses too much on the "gee whiz" of the study’s findings and too little on the study’s limitations. Again, the press release presented more caveats than this story does.
Because of the tone of the story and the focus on the "millions" who might be saved from blindness and not on the limitations of the study, this story veers into disease mongering. It says, "Loss of vision due to corneal disease or trauma affects over 10 million people a year, but lack of access to donor tissue limits the number of transplants, particularly in poorer countries. In the United States, an estimated 42,000 corneal grafts a year are performed using tissue from posthumous donors, but there are sometimes problems with rejection and experts say failure rates are significant." Both of these statistics needed attribution, especially given that there are conflicting statistics in other coverage of the same study. The statistics do not come from the press release.
There are no independent sources. The story does make the effort of explaining that a biotech company provided the substance used to create the corneas, giving readers a hint that this could be primarily a commercial enterprise.
The story does compare the treatment to human tissue transplants. It could have pointed out that the study was not designed as a direct comparison with people who received a human cornea transplant.
There is no discussion of the availability. Unlike the WebMD story, this story did not make it clear how preliminary this research is. Instead, it used phrases such as, "their findings offered hope for the millions of people who go blind each year because of a worldwide shortage of corneas for donation" and "this approach could help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for donated human corneas for transplantation."
The WebMD story makes it clear at the top how unique this procedure is. This story does not make it clear at all.
The first quote appears to come straight out of the press release, with some words cut out. Here’s the quote from the release. "This study is important because it is the first to show that an artificially fabricated cornea can integrate with the human eye and stimulate regeneration," said senior author Dr. May Griffith of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and Linköping University. "With further research, this approach could help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for a donated human cornea for transplantation." And here’s the one from the story. "This study … is the first to show that an artificially fabricated cornea can integrate with the human eye and stimulate regeneration," said May Griffith of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, who led the study. There are few facts in the story that are not in the release. So, while we can’t say the story relied solely on a news release, there’s some suspicion that it relied too much on it – and yet, in the end, felt more enthusiastic than the news release.