To examine the nature of media coverage of vitamin D in relation to its role in health and the need for supplements.
Media content analysis.
Print articles from elite newspapers in the UK, the USA and Canada.
294 print newspaper articles appearing over 5 years (2009–2014).
Newspaper coverage of vitamin D generally supported supplementation. The most common framing of vitamin D in print articles was “adequate vitamin D is necessary for good health.” Articles also framed vitamin D as difficult to obtain from food supply and framed vitamin D deficiency as a widespread concern. In discussions of supplementation, 80% articles suggested supplementation is or may be necessary for the general population, yet almost none of the articles discussed the potential harms of vitamin D supplementation in any detail.
Print articles named 40 different health conditions in relationship to vitamin D. The most commonly cited conditions included bone health, cancer and cardiovascular health. Although print articles referred to a wide range of scholarly research on vitamin D with varying degrees of endorsement for supplementation, a general tone of support for vitamin D supplementation in media coverage persisted.
Newspaper articles conveyed overall support for vitamin D supplementation. News articles linked vitamin D to a wide range of health conditions for which there is no conclusive scientific evidence. Media coverage downplayed the limitations of existing science and overlooked any potential risks associated with supplementation.
MEDICAL JOURNALISM; NUTRITION & DIETETICS; PUBLIC HEALTH
Stem cell researchers face pressure to develop therapies that will reach the clinic within a short period of time. Yet, this pressure may be unrealistic, as bringing stem cell innovations to the clinic will likely require significant time and financial investment. In a variety of biomedical fields, some evidence suggests that commercialization pressures and strategies may negatively impact research. These negative impacts may also be felt in the field of stem cell research, unless the challenges and issues are addressed in the design and implementation of commercialization policies. Further inquiry into the impact of commercialization on the field of stem cell research is required.
Background. Biobanks are an important research resource that provides researchers with biological samples, tools and data, but have also been associated with a range of ethical, legal and policy issues and concerns. Although there have been studies examining the views of different stakeholders, such as donors, researchers and the general public, the media portrayal of biobanks has been absent from this body of research. This study therefore examines how biobanking has been represented in major print newspapers from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to identify the issues and concerns surrounding biobanks that have featured most prominently in the print media discourse.
Methods. Using Factiva, articles published in major broadsheet newspapers in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia were identified using specified search terms. The final sample size consisted of 163 articles.
Results. Majority of articles mentioned or discussed the benefits of biobanking, with medical research being the most prevalent benefit mentioned. Fewer articles discussed risks associated with biobanking. Researchers were the group of people most quoted in the articles, followed by biobank employees. Biobanking was portrayed as mostly neutral or positive, with few articles portraying biobanking in a negative manner.
Conclusion. Reporting on biobanks in the print media heavily favours discussions of related benefits over risks. Members of the scientific research community appear to be a primary source of this positive tone. Under-reporting of risks and a downtrend in reporting on legal and regulatory issues suggests that the print media views such matters as less newsworthy than perceived benefits of biobanking.
Biobanks; Media representations; Public perceptions; ELSI; Consent; Privacy; Evidence-based policy
The growing international market for unproven stem cell-based interventions advertised on a direct-to-consumer basis over the internet (“stem cell tourism”) is a source of concern because of the risks it presents to patients as well as their supporters, domestic health care systems, and the stem cell research field. Emerging responses such as public and health provider-focused education and national regulatory efforts are encouraging, but the market continues to grow. Physicians play a number of roles in the stem cell tourism market and, in many jurisdictions, are members of a regulated profession. In this article, we consider the use of professional regulation to address physician involvement in stem cell tourism. Although it is not without its limitations, professional regulation is a potentially valuable tool that can be employed in response to problematic types of physician involvement in the stem cell tourism market.
•Stem cell tourism is a complex and growing phenomenon that raises various concerns•Physicians play important roles in this market and are often professionally regulated•Key features of professional regulation make it well placed to respond•It is appropriate to use available tools to mitigate risks of stem cell tourism
In this article, Zarzeczny and colleagues explore the use of professional regulation as a tool in responding to physicians’ involvement in the market for unproven stem cell-based interventions (“stem cell tourism”).
A challenge in human genome research is how to describe the populations being studied. The use of improper and/or imprecise terms has the potential to both generate and reinforce prejudices and to diminish the clinical value of the research. The issue of population descriptors has not attracted enough academic attention outside North America and Europe. In January 2012, we held a two-day workshop, the first of its kind in Japan, to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars in the humanities, social sciences, medical sciences, and genetics to begin an ongoing discussion of the social and ethical issues associated with population descriptors.
Through the interdisciplinary dialogue, we confirmed that the issue of race, ethnicity and genetic research has not been extensively discussed in certain Asian communities and other regions. We have found, for example, the continued use of the problematic term, “Mongoloid” or continental terms such as “European,” “African,” and “Asian,” as population descriptors in genetic studies. We, therefore, introduce guidelines for reporting human genetic studies aimed at scientists and researchers in these regions.
We need to anticipate the various potential social and ethical problems entailed in population descriptors. Scientists have a social responsibility to convey their research findings outside of their communities as accurately as possible, and to consider how the public may perceive and respond to the descriptors that appear in research papers and media articles.
Population descriptors; Ethics; Labeling; Race; Ethnicity; Japanese; Asian; Mongoloid
There has been much investment in research on the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) associated with genetic and genomic research. This research should inform the development of the relevant policy. So far, much of the relevant policy - such as in the areas of patents, genetic testing and genetic discrimination - seems to be informed more by speculation of harm and anecdote than by available evidence. Although a quest for evidence cannot always be allowed to delay policy choice, it seems axiomatic to us that policy options are improved by the incorporation of evidence.
The increased use of human biological material for cell-based research and clinical interventions poses risks to the privacy of patients and donors, including the possibility of re-identification of individuals from anonymized cell lines and associated genetic data. These risks will increase as technologies and databases used for re-identification become affordable and more sophisticated. Policies that require ongoing linkage of cell lines to donors’ clinical information for research and regulatory purposes, and existing practices that limit research participants’ ability to control what is done with their genetic data, amplify the privacy concerns.
To date, the privacy issues associated with cell-based research and interventions have not received much attention in the academic and policymaking contexts. This paper, arising out of a multi-disciplinary workshop, aims to rectify this by outlining the issues, proposing novel governance strategies and policy recommendations, and identifying areas where further evidence is required to make sound policy decisions. The authors of this paper take the position that existing rules and norms can be reasonably extended to address privacy risks in this context without compromising emerging developments in the research environment, and that exceptions from such rules should be justified using a case-by-case approach. In developing new policies, the broader framework of regulations governing cell-based research and related areas must be taken into account, as well as the views of impacted groups, including scientists, research participants and the general public.
This paper outlines deliberations at a policy development workshop focusing on privacy challenges associated with cell-based research and interventions. The paper provides an overview of these challenges, followed by a discussion of key themes and recommendations that emerged from discussions at the workshop. The paper concludes that privacy risks associated with cell-based research and interventions should be addressed through evidence-based policy reforms that account for both well-established legal and ethical norms and current knowledge about actual or anticipated harms. The authors also call for research studies that identify and address gaps in understanding of privacy risks.
The future clinical applications of whole genome sequencing come with speculation and enthusiasm but require careful consideration of the true system costs and health benefits of the clinical uses of this exciting technology.
The cost of whole genome sequencing is dropping rapidly. There has been a great deal of enthusiasm about the potential for this technological advance to transform clinical care. Given the interest and significant investment in genomics, this seems an ideal time to consider what the evidence tells us about potential benefits and harms, particularly in the context of health care policy. The scale and pace of adoption of this powerful new technology should be driven by clinical need, clinical evidence, and a commitment to put patients at the centre of health care policy.
Understanding the perception of patients on research ethics issues related to biobanking is important to enrich ethical discourse and help inform policy.
We examined the views of leukemia patients undergoing treatment in clinics located in the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. An initial written survey was provided to 100 patients (64.1% response rate) followed by a follow-up survey (62.5% response rate) covering the topics of informed consent, withdrawal, anonymity, incidental findings and the return of results, ownership, and trust.
The majority (59.6%) preferred one-time consent, 30.3% desired a tiered consent approach that provides multiple options, and 10.1% preferred re-consent for future research. When asked different questions on re-consent, most (58%) reported that re-consent was a waste of time and money, but 51.7% indicated they would feel respected and involved if asked to re-consent. The majority of patients (62.2%) stated they had a right to withdraw their consent, but many changed their mind in the follow-up survey explaining that they should not have the right to withdraw consent. Nearly all of the patients (98%) desired being informed of incidental health findings and explained that the information was useful. Of these, 67.3% of patients preferred that researchers inform them and their doctors of the results. The majority of patients (62.2%) stated that the research institution owns the samples whereas 19.4% stated that the participants owned their samples. Patients had a great deal of trust in doctors, hospitals and government-funded university researchers, moderate levels of trust for provincial governments and industry-funded university researchers, and low levels of trust towards industry and insurance companies.
Many cancer patients surveyed preferred a one-time consent although others desired some form of control. The majority of participants wanted a continuing right to withdraw consent and nearly all wanted to be informed of incidental findings related to their health. Patients had a great deal of trust in their medical professionals and publically-funded researchers as opposed to profit-based industries and insurance companies.
Biobank; Tissue repository; Cancer patient perspectives; Consent; Withdrawal; Anonymity; Incidental findings; Return of results; Ownership; Trust
Efforts to improve research outcomes have resulted in genomic researchers being confronted with complex and seemingly contradictory instructions about how to perform their tasks. Over the past decade, there has been increasing pressure on university researchers to commercialize their work. Concurrently, they are encouraged to collaborate, share data and disseminate new knowledge quickly (that is, to adopt an open science model) in order to foster scientific progress, meet humanitarian goals, and to maximize the impact of their research.
We present selected guidelines from three countries (Canada, United States, and United Kingdom) situated at the forefront of genomics to illustrate this potential policy conflict. Examining the innovation ecosystem and the messages conveyed by the different policies surveyed, we further investigate the inconsistencies between open science and commercialization policies.
Commercialization and open science are not necessarily irreconcilable and could instead be envisioned as complementary elements of a more holistic innovation framework. Given the exploratory nature of our study, we wish to point out the need to gather additional evidence on the coexistence of open science and commercialization policies and on its impact, both positive and negative, on genomics academic research.
The commercialization of academic research has been promoted by North American policy makers for over 30 years as a means of increasing university financing and to ensure that promising research would eventually find its way to the marketplace. The following issues paper constitutes a reflection on the impact of the Canadian commercialization framework on academic research in the field of genomics. It was written following two workshops and two independent studies organized by academic groups in Quebec (Centre of Genomics and Policy) and Alberta (Health Law Institute). The full sets of recommendations are available upon request to the authors.
The increasing popularity of complementary and alternative medicines in Canada has led to regulatory reforms in Ontario and British Columbia. Yet the evidence for efficacy of these therapies is still a source of debate. Those who are supportive of naturopathic medicine often support the field by claiming that the naturopathic treatments are supported by science and scientific research.
To compare provinces that are regulated and unregulated, we examined the websites of 53 naturopathic clinics in Alberta and British Columbia to gain a sense of the degree to which the services advertised by naturopaths are science based.
There were very few differences between the provinces in terms of the types of services offered and conditions treated. Many of the most common treatments--such as homeopathy, chelation and colon cleanses--are viewed by the scientific community to be of questionable value and have no scientific evidence of efficacy beyond placebo.
A review of the therapies advertised on the websites of clinics offering naturopathic treatments does not support the proposition that naturopathic medicine is a science and evidence-based practice.
Research involving minors has been the subject of much ethical debate. The growing number of longitudinal, pediatric studies that involve genetic research present even more complex challenges to ensure appropriate protection of children and families as research participants. Long-term studies with a genetic component involve collection, retention and use of biological samples and personal information over many years. Cohort studies may be established to study specific conditions (e.g. autism, asthma) or may have a broad aim to research a range of factors that influence the health and development of children. Studies are increasingly intended to serve as research platforms by providing access to data and biological samples to researchers over many years.
This study examines how six birth cohort studies in North America and Europe that involve genetic research handle key ethical, legal and social (ELS) issues: recruitment, especially parental authority to include a child in research; initial parental consent and subsequent assent and/or consent from the maturing child; withdrawal; confidentiality and sample/data protection; handling sensitive information; and disclosure of results.
Semi-structured telephone interviews were carried out in 2008/09 with investigators involved in six birth cohort studies in Canada, Denmark, England, France, the Netherlands and the United States. Interviewees self-identified as being knowledgeable about ELS aspects of the study. Interviews were conducted in English.
The studies vary in breadth of initial consent, but none adopt a blanket consent for future use of samples/data. Ethics review of new studies is a common requirement. Studies that follow children past early childhood recognise a need to seek assent/consent as the child matures. All studies limit access to identifiable data and advise participants of the right to withdraw. The clearest differences among studies concern handling of sensitive information and return of results. In all studies, signs of child abuse require reports to authorities, but this disclosure duty is not always stated in consent materials. Studies vary in whether they will return to participants results of routine tests/measures, but none inform participants about findings with unknown clinical significance.
Analysis of how cohort studies in various jurisdictions handle key ELS issues provides informative data for comparison and contrast. Consideration of these and other examples and further scholarly exploration of ELS issues provides insight on how best to address these aspects in ways that respect the well-being of participants, especially children who become research subjects at the start of their lives.
With a growing number of genetic tests becoming available to the health and consumer markets, genetic health care providers in Canada are faced with the challenge of developing robust decision rules or guidelines to allocate a finite number of public resources. The objective of this study was to gain Canadian genetic health providers' perspectives on factors and criteria that influence and shape resource allocation decisions for publically funded predictive genetic testing in Canada.
The authors conducted semi-structured interviews with 16 senior lab directors and clinicians at publically funded Canadian predictive genetic testing facilities. Participants were drawn from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Given the community sampled was identified as being relatively small and challenging to access, purposive sampling coupled with snowball sampling methodologies were utilized.
Surveyed lab directors and clinicians indicated that predictive genetic tests were funded provincially by one of two predominant funding models, but they themselves played a significant role in how these funds were allocated for specific tests and services. They also rated and identified several factors that influenced allocation decisions and patients' decisions regarding testing. Lastly, participants provided recommendations regarding changes to existing allocation models and showed support for a national evaluation process for predictive testing.
Our findings suggest that largely local and relatively ad hoc decision making processes are being made in relation to resource allocations for predictive genetic tests and that a more coordinated and, potentially, national approach to allocation decisions in this context may be appropriate.
The impact of commercialization and patenting pressure on genomics research is still a topic of considerable debate in academic, policy and popular literature. We interviewed genomic researchers to see if their perspectives offered fresh insights. Regional Genome Canada centers provided us with relevant researcher contact information, and in-depth structured interviews were conducted. Researcher perspectives were sharply divided, with both support and concern for commercialization regimes surfacing in interviews. Data withholding and publication delays were commonly reported, but the aggressive enforcement of patents was not. There are parallels to the Stem Cell community in Canada in these respects. Genomic researchers, as individuals directly implicated in the field of controversy, have developed varied and often novel insights which should be incorporated into the ongoing debates surrounding commercialization and patenting. Many researchers continue to raise concerns, particularly in relation to data withholding, thus emphasizing the need for a continued exploration of the complex issues associated with commercialization and patenting.
The use of race in biomedical research has, for decades, been a source of social controversy. However, recent events, such as the adoption of racially targeted pharmaceuticals, have raised the profile of the race issue. In addition, we are entering an era in which genomic research is increasingly focused on the nature and extent of human genetic variation, often examined by population, which leads to heightened potential for misunderstandings or misuse of terms concerning genetic variation and race. Here, we draw together the perspectives of participants in a recent interdisciplinary workshop on ancestry and health in medicine in order to explore the use of race in research issue from the vantage point of a variety of disciplines. We review the nature of the race controversy in the context of biomedical research and highlight several challenges to policy action, including restrictions resulting from commercial or regulatory considerations, the difficulty in presenting precise terminology in the media, and drifting or ambiguous definitions of key terms.
This study systematically compares newspaper coverage of clinical trials for herbal remedies, a popular type of complementary and alternative medicine, with clinical trials for pharmaceuticals using a comparative content analysis. This is a timely inquiry given the recognized importance of the popular press as a source of health information, the complex and significant role of complementary and alternative medicine in individual health-care decisions, and the trend toward evidence-based research for some complementary and alternative medical therapies. We searched PubMed for clinical trials, Lexis/Nexis for newspaper articles in the UK, US, Australia/New Zealand, and Factiva for Canadian newspaper articles from 1995 to 2005. We used a coding frame to analyze and compare 48 pharmaceutical and 57 herbal remedy clinical trials as well as 201 pharmaceutical and 352 herbal remedy newspaper articles.
Herbal remedy clinical trials had similar Jadad scores to pharmaceutical trials but were significantly smaller and of shorter duration. The trials were mostly studies from Western countries and published in high-ranking journals. The majority of pharmaceutical (64%) and herbal remedy (53%) clinical trials had private sector funding involvement. A minority declared further author conflicts of interest. Newspaper coverage of herbal remedy clinical trials was more negative than for pharmaceutical trials; a result only partly explained by the greater proportion of herbal remedy clinical trials reporting negative results (P = 0.0201; χ2 = 7.8129; degrees of freedom = 2). Errors of omission were common in newspaper coverage, with little reporting of dose, sample size, location, and duration of the trial, methods, trial funding, and conflicts of interest. There was an under-reporting of risks, especially for herbal remedies.
Our finding of negative coverage of herbal remedy trials is contrary to the positive trends in most published research based primarily on anecdotal accounts. Our results highlight how media coverage is not providing the public with the information necessary to make informed decisions about medical treatments. Most concerning is the lack of disclosure of trial funding and conflicts of interest that could influence the outcome or reporting of trial results. This lack of reporting may impact the medical research community, which has the most to lose by way of public trust and respect.