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Alzheimer's gene therapy hype

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This story appeared in my local paper today: “The first attempt at gene therapy for Alzheimer’s patients appeared to significantly delay worsening of the disease in a few people who have tested it so far. Scientists took skin cells from eight patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and modified the genes to secrete a protein found in healthy brains called nerve growth factors or NGF. They then implanted the NGF-producing skin cells directly onto Alzheimer’s-injured spots. Six patients were tracked for almost two years. Tests found their rate of cognitive decline slowed by 36 percent to 51 percent, better than is usually seen with medication.”

How do I criticize thee? Let me counts the ways.

1. This brief omitted the critical cautionary second sentence of the original AP story: “Far more research is needed to see if the experimental treatment, which requires a form of brain surgery, really helps.”

2. It omitted the following cautionary quote from the original AP story: “These results need to be interpreted with cautious optimism,” said William Thies of the Alzheimer’s Association. With so few patients in the study, “it’s really impossible to tell whether the benefit was due to the treatment or natural fluctuation in symptoms,” he said.

3. It omitted the following cautionary quote from a researcher involved in the work: “It’s cautious optimism with a big C. It can’t be a cure, obviously … but maybe it’ll do something.”

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Comments (2)

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Marilyn Meinke-Murphy

April 27, 2005 at 8:50 am

There’s at least one other significant flaw to the story, not to mention the study itself, IF the orginal AP article contained a correct and complete telling of the research:
Where is the control?
And that’s only the beginning of a long list of questions that should be asked about the research itself…not to metion the reporting.