May 31st, 2012

Reality Check: Stem Cell Science According To Perez Hilton

Celebrity Blogger Perez Hilton recently ran a news story about stem cell research with the headline: “Scientists Convert Skin Cells Into Beating Heart Muscle!” According to the report, “the tissue could one day be used to treat” heart failure.

Sites such as (which is among the top 150 most visited sites in the US), and (with over a 150,000 patient members) reach a far wider audience than sites such as CardioExchange or even the highest impact factor journal. However, they can also provide excess optimism and oversimplify the data. In fact, the accompanying Reuters report on the stem cell paper, which was originally published in the European Heart Journal, quoted Professor John Martin from University College London as saying, “The chances of translation are slim and if it does work it would take around 15 years to come to clinic.”

Patients and the public have both a need and an interest to learn about advances in science and medicine, but healthcare professionals have not filled this void. Thus more reliable voices such as Perez Hilton have become the surrogate educator of our patients. The casual nature of the report and the attractive 3-D imagery makes this a very understandable resource, which fails to address the complexities or limitations of these studies.

  • How do you respond to patients when they ask you about health “facts” that they have read online?
  • How can physicians better prepare the public so that physicians and societies become the go-to resource for patients, rather than bloggers and private companies?

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