04 January 2011

Good news. Good reporting.

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I always like to read about the wonder of stem cells. Of course I have a very big interest in the use of stem cells to cure paralysis and this blog often focuses on that, but today, I'm happy to be able to focus on a great piece of stem cell news to treat another condition.

This morning I opened my Daily Yomiuri newspaper to find wonderful news for women who have undergone masectomies. The news is that several universities and medical institutions in Japan will create a new institute in April to help victims of breast cancer regenerate their breast tissue using their own stem cells.

Currently, breast reconstruction is usally done with silicon which poses a risk of infection, or fat implants which offers only a temporary solution as the fat is reabsorbed back into the body.

This new treatment proposes to use stem cells from the patients own abdominal fat, culture them, and then re-inject them into the breast area.

Even better news is that it appears that this treatment will move to clinical trials by March 2012. The institute will try for government approval and to have any therapies covered by public health insurance. Currently, breast reconstruction in Japan is not covered by public insurance.

But aside from all the good news that this story brought us, I was most impressed by how well this short article reported the news.

It explained very clearly who is involved, what stem cells will be used (in laymen's terms of course), how the therapy will be delivered, and most importantly what the plan is in getting the therapy to the bedside. All good reporting answering all of the 5W's.

You may be wondering what's so impressive about that; any first year journalism student should be able to do that. Remarkably, when it comes to stem cell reporting, the 5W's are often forgotten, sometimes even throwing in a few X, Y, and Z's for dramatic purposes.

I can't even count the number of headlines I've seen declaring the unparalization of rats, as if the goal of the research was to cure animals with spinal cord injuries. You may think that I'm making too much of a big deal out of this, but I'm not. The goal of a newspaper is to report news, not turn spinal cord regeneration news into a novelty or to trivialize it.

Even worse is the failure of the mainstream press to report how the paralyzed rats or monkey were actually treated with stem cells, or if and when the researchers are planning to move to clinical trials. The main point of the story, to the resarchers and those of us with spinal cord injuries, is if and when the procedure could be used on humans, but this is often missing or left vague from newspaper articles.

And even worse than trivializing stem cell research, it doesn't give people the information they need to actually see how close the research has gotten us to a cure. This leaves the average person thinking how nice it will be in the distant future when spinal cord injury paralysis is cured, instead of seeing it where it is and demanding that government take action to bring the remarkable work of scientists to fruition.

So I'm going to send my letter-to-the-editor off to the Yomiuri thanking them for a well reported story. Also from now on, I'm going to write to newspapers when they write a poorly reported article on stem cell research. If you know of any shoddy stem cell research reporting, let me know, and we'll write together.

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