Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Shilling for Stem Cell Treatments? A Look at the Journal Nature and an Advertising Matter

For UC Davis scientist, Paul Knoepfler it was something "very strange." For Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, it had the earmarks of a "race to the bottom."

And it all involved a stem cell matter published by the prestigious journal Nature.

The headline on Hiltzik's column yesterday summarized the case like this. 
"Did a world-famous science journal become a shill for a questionable stem cell claim?"
Hiltzik wrote,
"Readers of Nature, one of the world’s most important scientific journals, might have been struck recently by an audacious claim appearing on its website about a possible stem cell treatment for heart attacks.

"The published item asserted that MUSE cells, a subset of stem cells, could regenerate heart tissue after acute myocardial infarctions, which are deadly sudden heart attacks. This could be a significant advance in both cardiac treatment and the use of stem cells.

"Here’s the problem. The published item wasn’t a peer-reviewed article subject to Nature’s rigorous professional vetting procedure. It was an advertisement placed by the Translational Research Center for Medical Innovation, the Japanese research lab that says it performed the reported study on MUSE cells using white rabbits.

"It looked like a Nature article, however, at least to Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell expert at UC Davis who has become one of our most assiduous debunkers of stem-cell quackery. Knoepfler thought the layout of the item might cause some readers to mistake it for a peer-reviewed paper, and promptly queried Nature. The journal responded by taking the advertisement offline Feb. 22. Knoepfler’s brief chronicle of the affair can be found on his website here."
Hiltzik concluded:
"The Food and Drug Administration has its hands full monitoring these claims and treatments. The agency has issued multiple warnings to steer the public away from such clinics and has taken administrative and legal action against some of them. The signs point to more exploitation and more danger to the public health. Important journals such as Nature shouldn’t be participating in a race to the bottom."
For the record, Knoepfler has been critical in the past about some of Hiltzik's commentary, including the columnist's views about the state stem cell agency.  
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