Stem Cell Rev. 2010 Dec 14.

In Delicate Balance: Stem Cells and Spinal Cord Injury Advocacy.

Parke S, Illes J.

National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 2B5, Canada,

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a major focus for stem cell therapy (SCT). However, the science of SCT has not been well matched with an understanding of perspectives of persons with SCI. The online advocacy community is a key source of health information for primary stakeholders and their caregivers. In this study, we sought to characterize the content of SCI advocacy websites with respect to their discussion of SCT and stem cell tourism. We performed a comprehensive analysis of SCI advocacy websites identified through a web search and verified by expert opinion. Two independent researchers coded the information for major themes (e.g., scientific & clinical facts, research & funding, policy, ethics) and valence (positive, negative, balanced, neutral). Of the 40 SCI advocacy websites that met inclusion criteria, 50% (N=20) contained information about SCT. Less than 18% (N=7) contained information on stem cell tourism. There were more than ten times as many statements about SCT with a positive valence (N=67) as with a negative valence (N=6). Ethics-related SCT information comprised 20% (N=37) of the total content; the largest proportion of ethics-related content was devoted to stem cell tourism (80%, N=30 statements). Of those, the majority focused on the risks of stem cell tourism (N=16). Given the still-developing science behind SCT, the presence of cautionary information about stem cell tourism at advocacy sites is ethically appropriate. The absence of stem cell tourism information at the majority of advocacy sites represents a lost educational opportunity.