Some unproven stem cell clinics just make things up, but when a big medical organization like Seattle’s largest nonprofit health firm, Swedish Medical Group, has a marketing segment on TV with what in my view are odd and inaccurate claims related to regenerative medicine, the negative impact could be far greater.
The segment in question was a sponsored content piece on KING 5 TV, essentially a medical ad for unproven stem cells and regenerative medicine.
In my original post I list what I see as the far-out claims in the video, but to give you a general sense of the assertions, one of them was that your brain sends the “right” kind of stem cells to specific areas of injury in your body so that, for instance, you don’t get eyeballs growing in your injured hand.
Since my original post, Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News reported on The Daily Beast that KING 5 had Swedish pull down the video from YouTube, at least in part because it wasn’t labeled as sponsored content.
I highly recommend Szabo’s in-depth article so go take a look. From her piece:
“Although much of the show is produced by the KING 5 news team, some segments—like Pourcho’s interview—are sponsored by local advertisers, said Jim Rose, president and general manager of KING 5 Media Group.
After being contacted by KHN, Rose asked Swedish to remove the video from YouTube because it wasn’t labeled as sponsored content. Omitting that label could allow the video to be confused with news programming. The video now appears only on the KING-TV website, where Swedish is labeled as the sponsor.
“The goal is to clearly inform viewers of paid content so they can distinguish editorial and news content from paid material,” Rose said. “We value the public’s trust.”
Szabo also reported that the physician in question and Swedish both stand by the video still, which you can still find on KING 5 here. For comparison to the Swedish video, watch this sober, balanced video on stem cell orthopedic studies from Dr. Shane A. Shapiro at Mayo (below).
While I’m not a fan of the marketing and clinical use by Mayo of as yet unproven stem cell therapies for orthopedic conditions, they are careful in how they discuss it including important caveats and considerations.
In my view it’s unclear still whether platelet rich plasma or bone marrow stem cell injections are significantly better than the standard of care for various orthopedic conditions, but some orthopedists, sports medicine, and other physicians seem to think one or both might be. I hope additional, strong clinical trials will clarify this.
The Swedish video development reminds me somewhat of the recent Nature ad-article situation. In that Nature case, the sponsored content on a controversial type of stem cells, MUSE cells, was initially published on the Nature website in a way that could be confusing to some readers, who might have thought it was a real, peer-reviewed Nature research article.
The journal later pulled the ad.
It’s unfortunate that KING 5 still has the Swedish sponsored content video up on its site even if it isn’t on YouTube any longer, but it being off YouTube means that fewer patients are likely to see it.
As Szabo rightly points out, more broadly some other large medical firms and universities are marketing unproven stem cells and regenerative medicine. This marketing sometimes is for clinical trials that are still ongoing and have not yet proven the “treatments” in question to work or be safe.
It’s a concerning trend.
Lines are getting blurrier between what’s legit and what’s not, what’s proven and what’s not, in the complex stem cell ecosystem. Patients frequently contact me with questions and are sometimes confused by the marketing out there. In my view, biomedical sponsored content is making things worse.