Representations of Stem Cell Clinics on Twitter
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The practice of travelling abroad to receive unproven and unregulated stem cell treatments has become an increasingly problematic global phenomenon known as ‘stem cell tourism’. In this paper, we examine representations of nine major clinics and providers of such treatments on the microblogging network Twitter. We collected and conducted a content analysis of Twitter posts (n = 363) by these establishments and by other users mentioning them, focusing specifically on marketing claims about treatment procedures and outcomes, discussions of safety and efficacy of stem cell transplants, and specific representations of patients’ experiences. Our analysis has shown that there were explicit claims or suggestions of benefits associated with unproven stem cell treatments in approximately one third of the tweets and that patients’ experiences, whenever referenced, were presented as invariably positive and as testimonials about the efficacy of stem cell transplants. Furthermore, the results indicated that the tone of most tweets (60.2 %) was overwhelmingly positive and there were rarely critical discussions about significant health risks associated with unproven stem cell therapies. When placed in the context of past research on the problems associated with the marketing of unproven stem cell therapies, this analysis of representations on Twitter suggests that discussions in social media have also remained largely uncritical of the stem cell tourism phenomenon, with inaccurate representations of risks and benefits for patients.
KeywordsStem cells Unproven stem cell treatments Stem cell tourism Social media Representation Twitter Content analysis
This research was generously supported by the Stem Cell Network and the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, funded by Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The authors would like to thank Brice Goldfelt for his assistance in coding the data, Ubaka Ogbogu for his contribution to the conceptual design of this work, and the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute for administrative support.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.
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