Understanding scientific research and the value of a press release: The case of BPA exposure and prostate cancer

For the past couple of days, a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has received increased coverage on social media. The reason – its press release claims that exposure to BPA allegedly can cause overproduction of prostate stem cells which, in turn, could increase men’s risk of prostate cancer.

Unfortunately, the press release’s sensationalist allegation does not reflect the study’s content. The research group, in its endeavor to create an artificial model for the development of human prostate using human stem cells used concentrations of unmetabolised BPA that some consider are routinely present in humans. However, their claim is unproven as more recent studies suggest that free BPA are not likely to be present in human blood. Not to mention, that according to latest research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded that safely inactivates and excretes BPA. Consequently, the human relevance of this part of the study is unclear.

The sensationalist press release does more harm than good to the study. By putting emphasis on an unfounded conclusion it does not highlight what is truly groundbreaking: the development of a prostate “organoid” (a structure that resembles an organ) that is reported to share the same characteristics of human prostate tissue. This is something that has never been achieved before and the technology could prove extremely for upcoming research, particularly on cancer.

Over the past years, we have noticed that often there is a disparity in substance between the study’s press release and its actual content. We understand that drawing the attention on the alleged risks of BPA is likely to attract more readership however, in many cases it draws the attention away from the valuable component of the research. On our side the only thing we could advise it think critically about what you read in the media – this document, ‘Consumer’s Guide to Chemical Risk: Deciphering the “Science” Behind Chemical Scares’, could also help shed some light on the main challenges of reading about science.

Of course, if questions on BPA persist don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll be happy to provide you with additional information and guide you through our understanding of the study.

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