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How To Separate Hope From Hype In Stem Cell Therapy

Clinics promising stem cell treatment for a growing list of difficult conditions are doing so despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about the dangers of unproven therapies. These practitioners are preaching hope where there might not be any yet, according to Dr. J. Peter Rubin, chair of the department of plastic surgery at UPMC. 

Credit Courtesy of UPMC
Dr. J. Peter Rubin is the chair of the department of plastic surgery and UPMC endowed professor of plastic surgery.

As a faculty member at McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a local hub of stem cell research, Rubin says he's seen the benefits of stem cell therapy firsthand, including a number of injured soldiers he's treated to correct facial deformities or treat pain after amputation.

But he warns some clinics have been allowed to prey upon medically vulnerable populations – costing some people thousands of dollars out of pocket – and that hyped-up advertising is harming legitimate stem cell research. He cites a case from Florida where patients suffered severe, permanent eye damage after stem cells were injected into their eyes in an unproven treatment. Rubin's advises patients seek counsel from a physician that specializes in the area best qualified to treat a specific disease. 

Later in the program: 

Just 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Jeannette was once known locally as “Glass City.” 90.5 WESA's Sarah Schneider talks to CEO Kathleen Sarniak-Tanzola about how she's kept her late husband's business going despite a recent rise in Chinese glass-making. Sarniak-Tanzola says she is confident the company will outlive her. “There’s a lot of great people here, and it will always be here. It’s lasted 115 years, it will last another.”

Eleven McKeesport Area High School students allege their district is illegally blocking the creation of a black student union. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, they've sued the district and its superintendent in federal court. 90.5 WESA's An-Li Herring talked to three of the students about their effort.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette received staff recognition this week in the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes for their breaking news coverage of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in October. Former executive editor David Shribman, who left the paper in January, reflects on the newsroom he led at the time, including editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers--also recognized as a Pulitzer finalist. Shribman says while the staff is honored to receive the award, they don't take pleasure in telling tragic stories. 

And an executive order signed by President Trump last week would make it easier to transport natural gas out of Pennsylvania. 90.5 WESA's Amy Sisk reports the order takes aim at states like New York that have blocked pipeline projects that would carry Marcellus Shale gas to markets in the Northeast, where gas is not always readily available. Trump’s order also opens the door to natural gas being transported by rail.

90.5 WESA's Alex Lenigan, John Sutton, Julia Zenkevich and Meg Fair contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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