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Mice, monkeys & medicine

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In the past week we’ve seen three stories by major news organizations that failed to give adequate caveats about the limitations of animal research – and about how foolish it can be to make the leap to predictions of human efficacy based on animal research.

A story on congestive heart failure research in animals said the work:

* May revolutionize cardiac care;

* Could save and improve thousands of lives;

* Has vast potential.

A story on calorie-restriction in monkeys said:

* It was “groundbreaking”;

* it “may be the key to a longer life with less disease”;

* the findings were “a vindication for very extreme dieters.”

And a story on caffeine and mice stated:

* “your morning cup of joe might help prevent memory loss due to
Alzheimer’s Disease”;

* “this is very important and very encouraging”

Nary a caveat in any of these stories about how something that seems so terrific in animal research often doesn’t pan out when the approach is tried in humans.

One of the real benefits, I believe, in tracking health news coverage every day as I do is that you get a big picture of what an imbalanced view of research is often painted by news organizations across the country. You might think that nothing ever fails, nothing ever goes wrong, nothing ever has harms.

A simple line of caution about the boulevard of broken dreams of past animal research would help a great deal.

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