The story could have discussed costs and done a better job quantifying how many people might actually benefit from this treatment. All in all, though, the story was far more complete than the other two.
Blindness is a serious public health concern, especially in developing countries, and any potential advance that would increase the number of corneas would be good news. People in the U.S. who are struggling with vision loss are anxious for treatment progress, too, and a small study like this needs to be properly evaluated and reported. Hope is wonderful. False hope does not benefit anyone.
One of the few ways this story fell down. Because donor corneas and plastic corneas are already on the market, at least a range of costs for those treatments and assessment of whether this would be a more or less expensive treatment would have been important information to include.
All the stories reported the results in absolute terms, which emphasizes for readers that the study is very small and that even though most people ultimately had better vision, we are still only talking about 10 people.
The story notes that none of the patients "experienced graft rejection or required long term immune suppression — two potential side effects with human donor corneal transplants." It could have discussed what it might mean for these patients if these grafts ultimately fail. Does it prevent them from then undergoing a human corneal transplant, which has a more established record of long term success?
Between the researcher’s own assessment and the outside commentary, it is made clear that this study is small and preliminary and in need of further research. This is the one of two of the stories reviewed to note that these results were obtained after two years of monitoring these patients. That gives readers both a sense of the significance of their improvements and the difficulty of this type of research. The story could have pointed out some of the specific limitations of the study design, including the fact that the study did not actually compare this type of transplant with any other kind of transplant or therapy.
There is no disease mongering in this story. There are, however, some suspect numbers about how many people suffer from corneal blindness and how many receive transplants. Global numbers about conditions such as corneal blindness can be tricky, but several studies put the number at closer to 5 million, not 10 million. The declaration that "only a small fraction ever receive transplants," should have been attributed.
The story uses one independent voice. As with many stories of this nature, it waits until the very end to bring in the independent voice of reason. Still, because the researcher’s comments in this story are so cautious, Dr. Walter Stark’s comments only help to bolster the sense that more research is necessary to draw any conclusions about benefits of biosynthetic corneas.
The story compares the biosynthetic corneas both to human corneas and to plastic corneas. It is the only story of the three to even mention plastic corneas. Other alternatives could have been explored.
Of the three stories, this one does the best job making it clear how preliminary this study is. The second sentence says that the results are from "the first 10 people in the world treated with the biosynthetic corneas," signaling that much more work needs to be done. To underscore that point, two paragraphs later the first quote in the story, from one of the lead researchers in the study, says "We are still in the prototype stage, but this shows that regenerating a human cornea is possible." This is the best quote in any of the stories.
The story states that this is the first time a biosynthetic cornea has been tested on humans. The story establishes that high but does not take a "gee whiz" approach.
The story does not rely on the news release.