October 22, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Divots fly from CNN puff piece on Jack Nicklaus & unproven stem cells

This past week’s coverage of unproven stem cells exhibited a wide range both in tone and in topics including golfer Jack Nicklaus.

There were the three critical articles on clinics that I blogged about earlier and then there was a CNN puff piece by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Roni Selig mostly focused on Nicklaus.

Note that “unproven” is not necessarily a bad word or pejorative adjective for stem cells as pretty much everything in clinical trials is still unproven, but if unproven stem cells are oversold or literally sold to patients for money, then things can get messy.

The CNN piece isn’t about stem cell clinics selling unproven offerings, but it still has its issues.

There is also video (see screenshot) of Gupta talking to Nicklaus at the meeting.

What’s my beef with this article?

The CNN piece had nearly zero balance. It did not discuss the challenging issues out there and failed to mention recent cases where patients have clearly been harmed by unproven stem cells such as being blinded. It’s important context given that some people will probably read the piece on Nicklaus and if they have their own golf issues or other orthopedic problems, they may go to a risky clinic too. This reminds me of the press coverage of the unproven offerings that other sports celebs and former stars have gotten: Gordie Howe, Boris Becker, and others.

The CNN piece was more a stem cell ‘feel good’ item than a real, carefully researched or well thought-out medical piece. In that way it was more hype than substance. This quote from the piece is not only awkward, but also seems intent on claiming the upbeat outcome of research in this area before it is done:

“The evidence to support Alt’s claims are still in progress, and further proof is expected from an FDA approved clinical trial at Sanford Health in the US.”

Proof is expected?

“Alt” here refers to Dr. Eckhard Alt, a German stem cell researcher offering stem cells to patients like Nicklaus. Alt and Sanford health appear to be working together on some stem cell research efforts.

Note that Sanford Health is conducting FDA-approved stem cell trials here in the U.S. so that is definitely a positive. It doesn’t mean these stem cell investigational therapies will turn out to be safe or effective, but at least Sanford is doing IND-based trials.

In the bigger picture, there’s nothing wrong with optimism or even looking for good news, but one should keep it balanced. Pieces like this CNN one are generally more harmful than helpful to the stem cell field and patients.

Also, I can’t help but wonder if the Vatican conference had its own religious agenda to promote supposed adult stem cell success stories no matter what and perhaps that permeated into the CNN piece, which again should have been objective biomedical journalism.

On a different note, I wish Jack Nicklaus the best.

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