Health News Review

A provocative new theory suggests that one root cause of Alzheimer’s disease is linked to diabetes — a theory about to be tested in thousands of Alzheimer’s patients given the diabetes drug Avandia in hopes of slowing brain decay.

Our Review Summary

This story attempts to explain some of the on-going research to understand the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease seen in people with type II diabetes. Utilization of sugar by the brain appears to be altered in Alzheimer’s disease patients, though whether this is a cause or a result of Alzheimer’s disease is not known. The experts quoted in the story think that this problem with sugar utilization in Alzheimer’s disease may be similar to what happens with type II diabetes. They propose that treatment of early Alzheimer’s disease with drugs currently used to improve sugar uptake in type II diabetics will help. This article does not report on results of such study, only the start of a study.

Several people quoted in this story are either directly or indirectly connected to the company that manufactures the medication under study or are currently funded to test this proposed mechanism associating type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The story could have included the perspective of some expert(s) less directly vested in this work.

Costs are not mentioned. This article paints a disease mongering picture when it says: “It’s a scary scenario: Alzheimer’s already is expected to skyrocket as the population grays, rising from 4.5 million sufferers today to a staggering 14 million by 2050. If the new theory is right, the nation’s current obesity-fueled epidemic of Type 2 diabetes could worsen that toll.”

None of the side effects or potential harms associated with rosiglitazone (Avandia) was mentioned in the article. And the story doesn’t quantify the benefits obtained in the specific subset of patients that showed improvement.


Criteria

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

This drug is currently on the market for diabetes so the story could have at least included information about its current cost for its current approved use.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t quantify the benefits obtained in the specific subset of patients with the genotype that showed improvement.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

None of the side effects or potential harms associated with rosiglitazone (Avandia) was mentioned in the article.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The evidence comes from an article published in the journal Pharmacogenomics (though not clearly mentioned in the article). The evidence points toward a possible improvement in the subset of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients with a particular apolipoprotein E variant in the group given the highest dose of rosiglitazone. It is a preliminary study and additional clinical studies will be required to confirm the results. While this caveat is presented in the abstract of the study, the news story presents the study results as more definitive than the researchers did.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

This article paints a disease mongering picture when it says “It’s a scary scenario: Alzheimer’s already is expected to skyrocket as the population grays, rising from 4.5 million sufferers today to a staggering 14 million by 2050. If the new theory is right, the nation’s current obesity-fueled epidemic of Type 2 diabetes could worsen that toll.”

Not Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

Several people quoted in this story are either directly (Allen Roses) or indirectly (Sam Gandy) connected to the company that manufactures the medication under study or are currently funded (Yadong Huang, Suzanne Craft) to test this proposed mechanism associating type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The story could have included the perspective of some expert(s) less directly vested in this work.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t mention any other treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The article did mention a second drug, Actos, used to treat type II diabetes.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Although a researcher at GlaxoSmithKline, makers of rosiglitazone, is quoted as saying “Don’t use Avandia for Alzheimer’s until that question has been settled,” the article does not make clear that rosiglitazone is not FDA approved for the purpose of treating or delaying onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

Rather than an association between type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease being “a provocative new theory” – the contention presented in this article – the clinical relation between these two diseases has been discussed for at least 10 years.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 0 of 9 Satisfactory


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