Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stem cell documentary starts out with flawed premise

Hype is a very common ingredient in promoting any media product. The world of medical discovery is no stranger to hype either. So it’s quite understandable why a project that marries the two worlds together would fall victim to this as well.

That was my first – and second – reaction when I read the news about a British team that is making a documentary about the promise of stem cells. It’s not the promise that struck me as hype but the claim in their news release that says:
“The documentary, which focuses on the controversy around stem cells in the United States, and how the US is falling behind within the medical field of stem cell treatments.”
It later goes on to say that:
"The UK is the hub of stem cell research in the world and by basing the project here we aim to portray the unbiased truth about the benefits of stem cell treatments."
Now, working at California’s stem cell agency I might be considered a little biased in my judgment but I grew up in the UK, and I also worked in TV news and made some documentaries so I can see this from both perspectives. But theirs is just wrong.

Let’s take a look at the facts:
 • The US spends vastly more on stem cell research than the UK
 • California alone spends more on stem cell research than the UK
 • There are far more stem cell scientists in the US than in the UK

The UK is clearly an important player in the field, but it is certainly not on the field alone. There is a vast international community working on moving stem cell-based therapies to the clinic for patients.

CIRM has collaborative funding agreements with 13 international funding agencies to foster collaborations between the best scientists here and abroad. You can see the full list here. KM


  1. One problem and a very large problem is that CIRM has no involvement with Advanced Cell Technology, this company is building a massive patent wall around MSC's and hESC's treating retinal diseases. Not to mention ACT has demonstrated visual improvement with patients that had Dry AMD. ACTC will sign a joint venture with a large pharma company based out of the UK that will be Fast Tracking the RPE treatment. It is just that simple, UK Pharma joint venture with ACT to treat Dry AMD and SMD which effects millions of people. The U.S. is and will be behind Stem Cell in every aspect until the governing bodies realize that the future of medicine and economy will depend on Stem Cell Med.

    1. which large pharma company? Is it a done deal?

  2. Kevin,

    Your data and argument is solid but in my opinion you've seized on the wrong thing about which to be incensed.

    This is all mere marketing for the company behind the film which runs a stem cell treatment clinic in China in the business of treating people for $10,000 minimum price for a myriad of diseases they list on their website.

    They exhibited at the one of the industry conferences recently and are leveraging that to boost a perception of legitimacy. Now you've linked to their press release from the CIRM site.

    They did a "private viewing" of a preview of a documentary in a villa they rented in Cannes which they say got a studio in the UK potentially interested in doing a documentary in collaboration with Industrial Motion Pictures which is a production company owned by Dr. Brian Mehling who is founder of Blue Horizon International and Blue Horizon Stem Cells which runs the Chinese clinic. It's all just a brilliant marketing masquerade.


  3. What is the status of government funding within Stem Cell research in US today? Do you have any numbers?


  5. Kevin,

    Its far worse than what you've laid out here. I met these "docu-dramists" at a CIRM ISSCR meeting in Brazil last year (2012) while they were filming their commercial. I was there presenting preclinical data and an update on StemCell Incs phase I/II trial of hCNS-SCs to treat thoracic spinal cord injuries. Dr. Mehling claimed Blue Horizon had a stem cell treatment for SCI. Yet I'd never heard of him or Blue Horizon. In fact, Blue Horizon's website claims they treat a myriad of conditions (over 20) yet they post no clinical trial data. Further, Mehling has no stem cell publications (PubMed June 21 2013 search). Yet his position was that the regulatory agencies actively work against scientists and companies to prevent new therapies from getting to the clinic. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

    This is a classic case of pseudoscience hype and marketing. People should compare the ISSCR patient handbook's advice on choosing a therapy and judging false claims ( against the information available on Blue Horizons.

    1. Did you talk to actually the makers of this movie in Brazil?
      What is the name of the movie? It seems like this is just in the making?

  6. Is funding the right metric to identify who is contributing most to the field? Are US researchers progressing further than UK researchers in terms of discovery? I have no idea and would be interested in a discussion clarifying that.

    US spends more money on education than other nations yet their education system is not producing students of the caliber or quantity that other nations are able to do with less funding. Canada spends less per student than the US but the Canadian education system is held to much higher esteem... I may be biased, I am a Canadian and I work in the field of education... but common metrics (results of PISA testing, for example) do support that Canada is doing better in education that the US.

    Dumping cash into a sector does not necessarily mean that result will be achieved.. although resources are always limited.