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Stem cell treatment used for diabetes

Rating

4 Star

Stem cell treatment used for diabetes

Our Review Summary

The story we reviewed was a 724-word version that the Boston Globe published, taken from an original Los Angeles Times story that had 1,253 words. While our overall review is quite favorable, the shorter Boston version left out important context for the story – most notably on the potential harms of the procedure in question.  We have written about this practice before.

The article describes using adult stem cell transplantation to eliminate the need for insulin in people with type 1 diabetes.  The article addresses many of our review criteria, including availability and novelty as well as describing absolute benefits seen in the experimental trial. 

The article does not adequately explain the strength of the evidence (e.g. was this a randomized clinical trial or something less robust?), so readers are not given any guidance about the quality of the evidence.  And there was no discussion of the costs of the procedure – in this experimental phase – or what it might cost if it became a treatment. The article also could have provided more context about harms, since serious complications, including death are possible. There was no discussion of how serious harms might be or how often they might occur.    

As an example of what can be left out in a shortened version, this line about potential harms appeared in the original LA  Times story, but was left out of the Boston Globe version we reviewed: "Burt's research group at Northwestern has performed 170 stem-cell transplants to treat a variety of immune system disorders, and two patients have died from the treatment."

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention any costs of the experimental procedure. 

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

Satisfactory

The story states that the new therapy eliminated the need for injections for months or years in 14 of 15 patients, thereby describing absolute benefits.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story states the new treatment is not without risks and that patients are prone to infection.  However, there is no description of how severe this harm might be (could lead to death) or how frequently these occurred in the study.  So, although harms are briefly mentioned, they are not adequately developed or appreciated. This is not a minor issue, as stem cell transplant can be associated with very signficant risks of infection, organ failure and even death. 

As an example of what can be left out in a shortened version, this line about potential harms appeared in the original LA  Times story, but was left out of the Boston Globe version we reviewed: "Burt's research group at Northwestern has performed 170 stem-cell transplants to treat a variety of immune system disorders, and two patients have died from the treatment."

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not report the strength of the evidence, namely whether this was a randomized trial or something less robust.  Readers also aren't cautioned about the low number of participants or the short length of follow-up which limits the conclusions that can be drawn.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not overembellish the nature of the condition or its burden. 

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

Satisfactory

The article quotes a source associated with the research and also quotes a source not associated with the research. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The article discusses the alternate, standard thereapy for type 1 diabetics, which is insulin injections. 

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

Satisfactory

The article states the treatment is experimental, letting readers know this procedure is not available at your local doctor's office just yet. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story states the research suggests a new avenue of treatment for people with Type I diabetes letting readers know this would be a new treatment (although the story states stem cell transplantation has been used with other conditions). 

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

Satisfactory

Because the story had input from several sources, including one not involved in the research, it's safe to assume it did not rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory

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