A Stem Cell scientist using a microscope

There are numerous examples of reports which accurately reflect major advances in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine.

For example, in January 2012, scientists published results of a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells to treat macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The findings were published in a paper in the Lancet entitled ‘Embryonic stem cell trials for macular degeneration: a preliminary report’. The media reported the story, with headlines including ‘Human stem cell therapy works in blind patients in first trial’ (Daily Telegraph), ‘A glimpse of hope as blind are given stem cell jab to give back sight’ (Daily Mail) and ‘West Yorkshire man takes part in stem cell eye trial’ (BBC). This story was also discussed by Dr Daniel Brison on the Today Programme on Radio 4, where he explains more about treating these findings with caution.

Other media reports are not quite so accurate

In September 2012 UK scientists published a paper in Nature detailing their findings using embryonic stem cells to restore hearing in gerbils. The paper was entitled ‘Restoration of auditory evoked responses by human ES-cell-derived otic progenitors’ and the authors suggested that ‘These results should stimulate further research into the development of a cell-based therapy for deafness’. Following a press release by their university, the story was reported by the media, with a range of different headlines.

The Daily Mail reported that ‘Cure for deafness a reality as scientists make animals hear again... and promise first human patients will be treated in a 'few years', while the BBC reported merely that ‘Deaf gerbils 'hear again' after stem cell cure’ and stated that ‘treating humans is still a distant prospect’.

Depending on which of these headlines you read, your impression of this research will be very different.

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