Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Stem Cellar: California Stem Cell Agency on Gordie Howe and Human Tissue Donations

The Stem Cellar is the blog of the California stem cell agency, and it is consistently worthy of attention.

For the most part it deals with scientific issues, only occasionally touching on other matters. Of course, it does serve as a vehicle for selling the agency’s programs and informing readers about their benefits.

On Friday, the Stem Cellar dealt once again with the Gordie Howe stem cell treatment situation, which received a fair amount of attention over the holidays in December.

The case involved a San Diego firm and treatment of the famed hockey star in Tijuana. Most of the coverage in the mainstream media has largely accepted the claims that the treatment has been wildly successful.  

Don Gibbons, senior science and education officer, wrote on Friday, 
“Finally some healthy skepticism has arrived. Hockey legend Gordie Howe’s recovery from a pair of strokes just before the holidays was treated by the general media as a true Christmas miracle. The scientific press tried to layer the coverage with some questions of what we don’t know about his case but not the mainstream media. The one exception I saw was Brad Fikes in the San Diego Union Tribune who had to rely on a couple of scientists who were openly speaking out at the time. We wrote about their concerns then as well.
"Now two major outlets have raised questions in long pieces back-to-back yesterday and this morning. The Star in hockey-crazed Canada wrote the first piece and New York Magazine wrote today’s. Both raise serious questions about whether stem cells could have been the cause of Howe’s recovery and are valuable additions to the coverage."
Gibbons also wrote on another subject.
“A University of Michigan study suggests most folks don’t care how you use body tissue they donate for research if you ask them about research generically. But their attitudes change when you ask about specific research, with positive responses increasing for only one type of research: stem cell research.
“On the generic question, 69 percent said go for it, but when you mentioned the possibility of abortion research more than half said no and if told the cells might lead to commercial products 45 percent said nix. The team published their work in the Journal of the American Medical Association and HealthCanal picked up the university’s press release that quoted the lead researcher, Tom Tomlinson, on why paying attention to donor preference is so critical:
“'Biobanks are becoming more and more important to health research, so it’s important to understand these concerns and how transparent these facilities need to be in the research they support.'
“CIRM has begun building a bank of iPS-type stem cells made from tissue donated by people with one of 11 diseases. We went through a very detailed process to develop uniform informed consent forms to make sure the donors for our cell bank knew exactly how their cells could be used. Read more about the consent process here.” 
We should also note that The Stem Cellar is several notches above what the agency used to produce several years ago for a blog. It is informative, explanatory and accessible and improving.

(Editor's note: An earlier version attributed The Stem Cellar item to Anne Holden based on incorrect information on the CIRM blog that indicated that she had written the piece.) 

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