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A Stem Cell Tale: Why one type of stem-cell research gets fawning media coverage and another is all but ignored

Wesley J. Smith

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It never fails. If an embryonic stem cell researcher issues a press release touting a purported research advance, the media trip over each other to give the story full dramatic fanfare. But if an even better adult or umbilical cord blood stem cell advance comes to light--even when the experiments involve humans--you can usually hear the crickets chirping.

The latest examples of this phenomenon involve contrasting coverage about experimental embryonic and adult stem cell therapies to treat paralysis. Last week, a purported breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research for spinal cord injury shot across the media firmament like lightning through an Iowa summer sky. Embryonic stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead claimed to have transformed embryonic stem cells into a cell that "help the brain's signals traverse the spinal cord." He then injected these cells into paralyzed rodents and reported that they appear to have "repaired damaged rat spines several weeks after they were injured."

If this research pans out, it would indeed be an important breakthrough. But one wonders why this particular story was written at this specific time and received so much play, given that Keirstead didn't actually make any news. As noted in the story, Keirstead has been playing videos of formerly paralyzed rats walking to various audiences for two years. Moreover, the only apparent news hook for the current story is that he hopes to begin human trials using this technique in about two years.

Read the entire article on The Weekly Standard website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-Feb-05



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