Monday, June 04, 2018

Viral Power: California Stem Cell Agency Hits 6K with Cyberspace Event on Stroke Therapy

Here is the Facebook Live event produced by CIRM. The number in the left hand 
corner is not static. It changes as the video is viewed by more persons. 

The $3 billion California stem cell agency last week mounted its first "Ask the Experts" session on Facebook, a look at a stroke therapy that left one patient crying with joy and  researchers "shocked" at the initial, beneficial results.

The Facebook Live event dealt with a stem cell treatment for the most common form of strokes, which claim 750,000 victims annually. It is the leading cause of disability in this country and third leading cause of death.

The webcast at noon last Thursday drew only about 80 viewers, the agency reported. But by late Monday, Facebook statistics showed that it had been viewed more than 6,400 times (more than 6,500 by this morning). The figures demonstrated the viral power of Internet communications in spreading the stem cell agency's message. Not to mention that it could help to stave off the agency's financial demise.

Featured on the webcast were researcher Gary Steinberg of Stanford University, whose work has been supported by $24 million from the agency, and Sonia Coontz of Long Beach, Ca., who said she wept after treatment in the clinical trial as she experienced immediate improvements. Steinberg said his team was "shocked" by the rapidity with which some patients improved from their ischemic strokes.

More than 172 comments were made during the session. Some simply sought more information. Others waxed euphoric. Lisa Bayha Deck, wrote on Facebook,
"I’m a patient of Dr. Steinberg’s and so thankful for his professionalism. He gave me my life back after four strokes and Moyamoya Disease."
The Facebook event was the latest effort by the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), to educate the public about the work it is financing. However, the agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of next year. It hopes that voters will provide it with $5 billion more in state bond funding via a ballot measure in November 2020. 

During the event, Lila Collins, a senior scientist at CIRM, provided an overview of key stem cell trials around the country. Kevin McCormack, senior director of communication at CIRM, moderated and produced the session.   

Following the event, McCormack said he thought it went well for an initial effort, although he said he was caught up in the mechanics of handling the session. On Monday, McCormack said, 
"We are going through the stats now and plan on putting together a roundup of views, comments, etc. We are also planning on posting a blog about the event – with answers to questions we didn’t get around to during the hour – so that should be coming in the next few days."
Prior to the webcast, the California Stem Cell Report asked McCormack to elaborate on the agency's Facebook effort. Here is a lightly edited version of that email interview. 

Q: Is this the first such event for CIRM? 
A: It’s the first Facebook Live event we are doing. A few years ago we did a similar series using Google Hangout. We featured a number of our experts in ALS and cancer, heart disease etc. but that wasn’t as easy to do technically. Facebook Live is simpler and because so many more people are on Facebook on a regular basis it will hopefully allow us to reach a wider audience. 

Q: Why is CIRM doing this event? 
A: It’s just part of our outreach efforts to let people know how stem cell research is progressing and the role that CIRM is playing in advancing that. We have been doing similar things for years, reporting back to the people of California on the work we are doing. We do it regularly with in-person patient advocate meetings, and with talks and presentations all around the state so we just wanted to take advantage of this technology to see if we could reach a wider audience.

Q: Will it be saved on the CIRM web site for future viewing?
A: One of the great features of Facebook Live is that it is automatically saved at the end and you can watch them on Facebook again and again. And yes, we’ll be putting links to them on our website but the easiest way to find them is to just go to our Facebook page.

Q: How did this originate?
A: We are always looking for new ways to reach out to a wider audience and let people know about CIRM’s help in advancing stem cell research. We looked at Facebook Live and thought it could be a great tool for us. We are already on Facebook anyway so this was a natural extension.

Q: And, finally, is there anything else you want to say about this event and its significance? 
A: Earlier this year we held a patient advocate event at UC Riverside. It was our first excursion to the Inland Empire and we had a great crowd, more than 100 people showed up on a weekday. But our goal is always to reach as many people as possible, and so we are always exploring new ways, new tools to do that. 
Much as we would like to, we don’t have the staff or budget to travel constantly around the state doing in-person meetings so this is a great way of achieving the same goal in a much more efficient manner. The people of California put a lot of faith in us when they approved $3 billion in funding for stem cell research. As we see that funding really help accelerate the field – we have 49 projects that we funded in clinical trials, we are seeing patients cured of life-threatening diseases – we want to share that news with as many people as possible.

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