Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who needs real stem cell news? We've got NBC!

Tuesday night NBC Nightly News aired a report on stem cell research and Judge Royce Lamberth's decision that federally funding human embryonic stem cell research violates the Dickey Amendment and should be prohibited. By omission the report intentionally tricks viewers into thinking that embryonic stem cells are currently being used to treat patients with heart ailments.

The report begins with science reporter Robert Bazell visiting a lab where researchers use both adult and embryonic stem cells. Dr. Chuck Murry describes himself as “very pragmatic” and says he wants to use the type of cells that work the best. The researcher then shows Bazell embryonic stem cells which have been turned into heart cells that beat together in a lab dish. Next (at about the one minute mark) the report mentions the research team has “already started injecting cells into people” but never mention what kind of cells they're injecting into people. Then a quote from Murry who talks about how embryonic stem cells can become the 200-some-odd types of cells in the body. We're then told that this research may have to stop by the end of the year because of the ruling.

There haven't been any approved clinical trials for embryonic stem cells to be used on heart patients, so I know the team isn't using embryonic stem cells on human patients. The public doesn't know this though so any average person watching this report is left with two completely false impressions: 1.) that embryonic stem cells are currently being used to treat heart patients and 2.) that non-existent research using embryonic stem cells to currently treat heart patients may stop receiving federal funds at the end of the year.

Viewers are probably also left with the false impression that embryonic stem cells are working better in patients because of the “pragmatic” comment followed by the dish of beating cells formed from embryonic stem cells and the complete lack of any mention of adult stem cell successes with actual patients.

This is a disgraceful, intentionally misleading report.

Also of interest:

Here's the text of 2005 NPR interview with Dr. Murry regarding his work. He thought he would optimistically start a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells to treat heart patients in 2008.

Nathan Burchfiel of NewsBusters commentedon both the NBC story and the CBS story.

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