Background aims: Studies examining crowdfunding campaigns for stem cell interventions have typically focused on campaigns seeking funds to send individuals to businesses marketing unlicensed and unproven stem cell products. However, some crowdfunding campaigns identify academic medical centers as destinations for individuals seeking access to stem cell products provided either in clinical studies or on an expanded access basis. This study examines crowdfunding campaigns seeking funds to enable children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder access to stem cell interventions. Methods: This study compares and contrasts crowdfunding campaigns, identifying an international stem cell clinic marketing a purported umbilical cord blood-derived stem cell treatment for autism spectrum disorder, with campaigns soliciting donations intended to help children with autism spectrum disorder either participate in clinical studies or obtain expanded access to stem cell products provided at an academic medical center in the US. Results: Campaigns connected to both sites contained inaccurate claims. However, campaigns identifying the international clinic as the intended destination site made stronger claims about efficacy and were more reliant upon testimonials than campaigns listing the US-based academic medical center as the planned clinical site. Acknowledging these important distinctions, clinical studies and press releases associated with the academic medical center played an important role in lending the perception of credibility to the putative stem cell treatments marketed by the international clinic. Conclusions: The study's findings emphasize how important it is for researchers at academic medical centers and comparable research facilities to avoid engaging in stem cell hyperbole; highlight the preliminary nature of early clinical studies; ensure that any claims about safety and efficacy are based upon robust and reliable evidence; and promote responsible science communication by exercising restraint when crafting press releases, conducting media interviews and otherwise publicizing clinical research findings.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
No funding was received. The authors have no commercial, proprietary or financial interest in the products or companies described in this article. Conception and design of the study: JS and LT. Acquisition of data: JS and LT. Analysis and interpretation of data: JS and LT. Drafting or revising the manuscript: JS and LT. Both authors have approved the final article.
- Direct to Consumer Marketing
- Stem Cells