CBS Evening News Distorts Public Sentiment on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The CBS Evening News’ latest installment of “Where America Stands” failed to mention that some Americans actually stand opposed to embryonic stem research. Instead, last night’s program only featured medical professionals and industry experts who support the controversial research method.

Setting the stage for the segment, "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric emphasized the potential promise of embryonic stem cells while neglecting to acknowledge pro-life objections.


“It’s been a year since President Obama loosened restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research,” Couric noted, adding, “Those stem cells come from unused human embryos at fertility clinics and they can be transformed into any cell in the body.”


Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News medical correspondent, chronicled the progress that researchers have made in recent years, declaring, “The report card on stem cells is promising, but incomplete.”


By ignoring an entire side of the debate, the CBS Evening News offered a tacit endorsement of research many Americans find morally objectionable. That's hardly an accurate portrayal of “Where America Stands.”


A full transcript of the segment can be found below:


KATIE COURIC, "Evening News" anchor: It’s been a year since President Obama loosened restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Those stem cells come from unused human embryos at fertility clinics and they can be transformed into any type of cell in the body.


The hope is scientists will one day be able to replace damaged or defective cells in people suffering from diseases like diabetes, Parkinson`s and Alzheimer`s.


So how close are we? Dr. Jon LaPook shows us in our series, "CBS Reports: Where America Stands."


Dr. JON LaPOOK, CBS News medical correspondent: Twelve years after the discovery of the human embryonic stem cell, research is finally picking up steam. Over the past seven years, the NIH has more than tripled its investment in stem cell research to over $1 billion.


The number of embryonic stem cell lines funded by the government has doubled. More than 200 U.S. companies are researching stem cells. So the report card on stem cells is promising but incomplete.


Two years ago, scientists found another way to create stem cells -- from ordinary skin cells. That breakthrough lets researchers study diseases in a dish. For example, skin cells from a patient with ALS have been turned into the kind of nerve cell attacked by the disease.


For the first time, those living nerves can be studied outside the body to figure out what goes wrong.


LARRY GOLDSTEIN, University of California Stem Cell Program: It’s amazing. What can you say?


LaPOOK: Stem cell biologist Larry Goldstein says studying disease is like investigating a plane crash.


GOLDSTEIN: What you`re really looking for is the black box of diseases. What`s the black box of Alzheimer`s disease? What`s gone wrong when the plane started to go down?


LaPOOK: Once researchers figure out what goes wrong in diseases, they can test drugs in the safety of a Petri dish before trying them on patients.


GOLDSTEIN: We`re building foundations right now. And so the science is moving along very well.


LaPOOK: The problem? How to harness the tantalizing potential of stem cells.


Dr. JOHN KESSLER: It takes a lot of work to make this happen.


LaPOOK: No one knows that better than John Kessler. Nine years ago, a phone call changed his life forever.


KESSLER: And that`s the kind of call nobody ever wants to get.


LaPOOK: His 15-year-old daughter Allison was injured in a skiing accident. She was paralyzed from the waist down.


KESSLER: There was a moment of despair. It`s a moment of knowing what I faced. Knowing what my daughter faced.


LaPOOK: He knew because he`s a neurologist. On the way to the hospital, he had an epiphany.


KESSLER: Now I know what I have to work on and it`s spinal cord injury.


LaPOOK: Dr. Kessler is now a leader in the field.


KESSLER: So these are neural stem cells.


LaPOOK: He`s turned stem cells into nerves and helped heal animals with spinal injury.


KESSLER: Is this a cure for spinal cord injury? No. Do we think that it`s very likely this will help people? We think so.


LaPOOK: Today, Allison is an outgoing 25-year-old. Her father`s greatest wish is that one day his work will help her walk again.


ALLISON KESSLER: If there is a cure to find at this day and age with current science, he’s the one that’s going to push the envelope. I literally had just flipped the page.


LaPOOK: Allison has moved on with her life. She’s now in medical school.


KESSLER: More than dozens of times she’s told me, "Dad, get over it, come on, you know? Just move on." So, I mean, she’s handled it remarkably well.


LaPOOK: And can you just move on?


KESSLER: No. I’ll never get over it. Never.


LaPOOK: The solution can’t come fast enough for patients desperate for help now.


Dr. HANS KEIRSTEAD, UC-Irvine's Reeve-Irvine Research Center: It’s like we’re putting a very, very young chunk of spinal cord into an adult.


LaPOOK: Later this year, Dr. Hans Kierstead of U.C. Irvine, working with Geron Corporation, will begin the first FDA-approved trial of human embryonic stem cells to treat paralyzed patients within two weeks of injury.


KEIRSTEAD: Wow. These are looking really, really nice.


LaPOOK: In spinal cord injury, the insulation coating the wires in the cord is destroyed. Electrical messages from the brain can’t get past the point of injury and function is lost.


KEIRSTEAD It’s like you’ve got a bunch of wires that are short circuiting. The tissue that’s left doesn’t work because they can’t conduct electricity up and down your cord.


LaPOOK: Keirstead and his team figured out a way to turn stem cells into this cell. This is actually the insulating material.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That’s the insulating material.


LaPOOK: It makes insulation for the spinal cord. Millions of these cells will be injected into the damaged area. The hope is by restoring the insulation; the spinal cord will work again.


KEIRSTEAD I expect incremental benefits to the humans that receive this. I think they’re going to get better and I’m just dying to find out if I’m right.


DR. CATRIONA JAMIESON, UC-San Diego's Moores Cancer Center: We’re trying to make the therapies more effective.


LAPOOK: Stem cells have even given scientists a brand new way to think about cancer.


JAMIESON: We think that there are these cells at the root cause of cancer called cancer stem cells.


LaPOOK: Stem cells are normally present throughout our bodies and help us replace cells that are worn out or damaged. But these normal stem cells can produce cancer stem cells that create regular cancer cells in tumors.


While chemotherapy kills regular cancer cells as they divide, cancer stem cells survive by lying dormant, then springing to life and causing relapse.


JAMIESON: Getting rid of the most robust cell within the cancer that has the capacity to regenerate the whole cancer is how to really expunge the cancer and make sure that people don`t relapse.


LaPOOK: This new approach may have saved Theresa Blanda’s life. In 2008, blood tests showed she was close to developing leukemia. And a year and a half ago could you have walked like this?


THERESA BLANDA, former cancer patient: With a walker or a cane.


LaPOOK: Eighteen months ago, she enrolled in a clinical trial using a drug that Dr. Jamieson and her team developed. It attacks cancer stem cells in her blood. Now she’s back to a normal life. Did you ever imagine that you’d be sitting here like this?


BLANDA: No. To be honest with you I don’t think I imagined myself sitting here, period.


LaPOOK: Even if everything goes right, stem cell based treatments won’t be widely available for years. Still, this may be one of those rare instances in medicine when the hype is actually deserved. Katie?


COURIC: So fascinating. Some scientists want to destroy stem cells like in cancer and others, obviously, want to create them.

--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.


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