January 27, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

On Duke stem cells for autism trial, did new CNN article hit the mark?

Dawson KurtzbergWhat’s the scoop on stem cells for autism?

Could stem cells make a real difference for autism patients and their families?

CNN has a big, high-profile new article out today on the Duke stem cell trial for autism that has been ongoing for a while and I’m wondering how good a job CNN did on this one. Too often media over-hype stem cells and this includes for autism.

I’ve covered the Duke trial before here and here, which is run by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, a scholar in the translational stem cell field, and Geraldine Dawson, an autism expert (they are pictured above).

The CNN article has some balance and includes cautionary notes about not jumping to conclusions so those are positive factors in conveying the appropriate message, but on the other hand the authors, Wayne Drash and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, focus so heavily on a particular patient and family portrayed as a success story that that tips the balance to a bit of a net negative I think in terms of giving readers the wrong impression. But the included cautionary notes from Arnold Kriegstein, head of the UCSF Stem Cell Program, are helpful.

There are just so many unknowns about autism and about how stem cells might help it in terms of mechanisms. The study in question is not controlled and is open-label too, factors that complicate interpretations.

Overall, it’s a close call and this article is better than most media pieces on translation of stem cells to the clinic, but I don’t think the CNN authors were quite cautious enough about stem cells for autism in this piece.

What do you think?

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