Weekly reads: Google, CIRM, young Swedish bone marrow

For me, this was another week of heavy grant writing but also taking on Google again. How? Over how badly its search engine often performs on stem cell queries. I have a new piece at MedPage Today. It’s focused on the problem of Google Search promoting unproven stem cell clinic websites.

stem cells Google
Searching about stem cells on Google can be risky.

Google still prefers stem cell clinic websites to NIH, Mayo, etc.

Here it is. Why I ‘Anti-Trust’ Google Search on HealthcareMedPage Today It’s kind of a mystery as to why, but Google seems to love the websites of many stem cell clinics. Do the clinics spend a ton on SEO? Have some other web magic?

However clinics do it, Google often ranks them higher than the websites of NIH, Mayo, and others that are clear experts. In almost 100% of cases, the clinics are not the experts. Can Google not tell the difference? Does it not care that these firms market unproven medical offerings? Does Google get something out of so highly ranking these clinic websites? I wish I had more answers.

As I’ve written before here on The Niche and for STAT News, I met with Google a couple of years back and went over this issue with them. Perhaps it was naive of me to expect them to actually change anything. They know best, of course.

One other sad possibility is that Google ranks the clinic websites so highly because it somehow believes that people want easier access to risky, unproven medical interventions and promotional “information” that the clinics have on their sites.

Will Google change moving forward on stem cells? Probably not but the stakes are high so it’s important to try to make a difference here. It seems patients are almost always recruited to clinics via the web and Google dominates.

Weekly reader question-and-answer videos

I’m doing a new video feature of answering a reader question each week (hopefully each week if I can find time) by way of our stem cell YouTube channel. Above I have the first installment where I discuss the death of the man who got stem cells down in Tijuana.

A reader wanted to know if it could be just a coincidence. If you like these videos please subscribe to our channel and help us get to over 1,000 subscribers.

More stem cell and regenerative reads

First live birth of a chimeric monkey is a technical feat, but pushes ethical boundaries, Fierce Biotech.

CIRM President Maria Milan is moving on, CIRM. It’s not clear why she is leaving. During her time at CIRM, the agency thrived and started many clinical trials.

Bryan Johnson continues his series of unproven anti-aging efforts with the latest being, oddly enough, “young Swedish bone marrow”. Huh?

See the tweet above. About a dozen concerns come to mind across several areas.

I asked him on Twitter if he got the procedure for free to promote it. No reply. He reportedly has also tried young blood from his son. See the embedded link in this sentence for more on the whole idea of young blood for anti-aging.

I also wrote recently about the idea of health flexing and health celebrities in the anti-aging space.

dumb stem cell headline
My choice for the dumb stem cell headline of this week.

Dumb stem cell headline of the week

Speaking of anti-aging stuff, we move on to the dumb headline of the week. Almost every week there’s a new article in the stem cell and regenerative space that has an awful headline, sometimes leading to a train wreck article. I try not to link to these articles here, but they are important to highlight to combat hype and misinformation. I’ve pasted this week’s headline above. The actual article isn’t pretty either.

Some of these weekly “winners” are candidates for The Screamers Science Hype Award. I give these awards out each year for science statements and headlines that just scream out biological sciences-related hype. Something related to anti-aging is a strong candidate for the science hype award this year. If you have any nominees, please let me know.

13 thoughts on “Weekly reads: Google, CIRM, young Swedish bone marrow”

    1. @StemCellSciGuy,
      Yes, they clearly are spending big bucks on SEO. Stuff like selling unproven medical interventions, including errors in your webpages about stem cells, downplaying risks, etc. are supposed to have negative impact on the ranking of a site. I’m not seeing that happen with clinics so it suggests to me that there may be other SEO tricks to avoid Google penalizing you for selling risky, unproven medical interventions and/or Google in reality just doesn’t care about such stuff.

      1. I’ve worked for a number of companies into the larger biotech industry. The Sales & Marketing teams have a whole number of tricks to bump up search results. Some are basically paying Google to bump them up, for all intents and purposes. Others are ways to optimize search results through the use of keywords, social media posts, and similar things. And this work is all outsourceable now. There are 3rd party companies you can pay to bump up your search results.

        So with these ‘clinics’ making millions, you bet they are going to spend $10k – $100k easily to make sure their advertisements and searchability remain high. Worse, they can easily outspend legitimate hospitals and other clinical groups doing trials, so the legitimate science gets obscured in the dust.

        Sadly Google’s old motto of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ really fails when it comes to stem cell science and medicine.

        1. @Guy,
          That fits with my impressions too. Big money from clinics on SEO. Some marketers have gotten rich just helping clinics with their SEO.

          Then I think sometimes it’s not about SEO. Sometimes Google Search just is really bad at knowing what is an expert, authoritative website regardless of SEO. For example, recently I did an incognito mode Google search for “stem cells for autism” and Google now ranks an obscure Ukrainian stem cell clinic as the #1 in the world website for that despite having, in my opinion, pretty bad SEO on that site (setting aside the fact that they are selling risky unproven cell injections to vulnerable families that are used on kids). No images, clunky text, etc. How does that make any sense?

          In the bigger picture, what I still don’t get is Google not fixing this. They don’t care? They do care but in the opposite way they should (make $$$ from clinic website ranking?)? They’re arrogant? Their search system is just a mess and they can’t fix it even if they wanted to?

  1. Thank you Dr Knoepfler for all these great updates. I have one though in relation to your ‘MedPage Today’ article and the number of clinics. In the article you make an estimate of 2000 private clinics in US. However, Leigh Turner (2021) locates 2754 clinics in 2021, which was 4 times as many clinics than you and Turner found in 2016. So I think it is safe to assume the number of private clinics are higher than than 2000 here in 2023.

  2. Dear Admin:

    You have answered your own question. It’s how search engine result-listing algorithms work, and it is what anyone paying for SEO knows. The search engine result-listing algorithms put sites with the most visitors at the top of the list. So, if you want The Niche to be listed more often and higher on search results for “stem cells” you pay a SEO company to do lots of messaging about “stem cells” that sends people to The Niche page. So, you can be sure that private stem cell clinics are spending money on SEO. Google is just doing what search engines like Google do. No different than Amazon offering you more things to buy or view that are like the things you already bought and the movies you already watched.

    James @ Asymmetrex®

    1. There’s more to the story though. Some SEOs use “black hat” techniques like buying links back to their customer sites, which I’ve seen evidence of for unproven clinic websites. That’s supposed to spark penalties from Google Search. Some SEOs try to damage competitor sites. Also, Google has said that sites marketing unproven medical offerings may face penalties. Google is also supposed to be able to ascertain authoritative/expert sites from those just doing marketing. However, Google seems pretty bad at this stuff, at least in the stem cell space, or just doesn’t care (or actively benefits from ranking certain sites well that it shouldn’t) so the reality may be that sites spending heavily on SEO will rank well no matter what they do or sell.

    2. I find it alarming (but not surprising these days) that a university professor is advocating for Internet censorship. I think people are perfectly capable of searching Google for “Cost of stem cell injections in China” and “Dangers of stem cell treatments in China”. We don’t need people like @admin determining which search results we should see and which ones we shouldn’t. When I search for “Long distance running shoes”, I don’t want to see results on how running shoe manufacturing is causing wildfires in Timbuktu or contributing to child slavery in Wakanda. I just want a pair of running shoes. If I am concerned about the impact of running shoes on the world, I am perfectly capable of searching for that too.

      1. I’m not advocating for censorship. Rather, Google, given its massive influence on public health, should just be more cautious and logical. When it comes to healthcare searches, Google should take into consideration whether someone is selling something to consumers including potentially targeting vulnerable patients and their families, is that intervention based on rigorous clinical science, are those running the website healthcare experts in that field, have harms been linked to what is being offered, etc. Right now it seems like Google does a bad job with this. Your comparison of stem cell procedures to running shoes doesn’t make sense. Are you planning to get IV infusions of running shoes?

        1. “Rigorous science” – Like that which was done for mRNA “vaccines”? The point is that people can search for information themselves without people like you or companies like Google curating what they think people should and should not see.

          1. Based on your comments over the years, I can tell you know far more about stem cells than the average person, who might take clinics finishing in the top of Google search results to mean some thing really important, which it doesn’t in many cases. Besides, are you arguing Google shouldn’t curate any of its results at all? Then what order would they show search results in? Random?

          2. Dear Bill,
            There is a difference between well tested science, and opinion. I believe that is more along the likes that Dr. Knoepfler is advocating for.

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