Note to our followers: Due to a lack of sufficient funding, HealthNewsReview.org will cease daily publication of new content at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. If you wish to donate, your gift might help keep the site available to the public for a few more years, by defraying costs of web hosting and maintenance. All of our 6,000+ published articles contain lessons to help people improve their critical thinking about health care. Read more about our change in status. And here's how to make a donation.

Stanford promotes a magnetized wire ‘to detect cancer in people.’ What you need to know

Michael Joyce is a writer-producer with HealthNewsReview.org and tweets as @mlmjoyce

This is quite the unjustified headline from a Stanford University School of Medicine news release:

‘Magnetized wire could be used to detect cancer in people’

Stanford claims that antibody-coated, magnetic nanoparticles can be engineered to bind with circulating cancer tumor cells (CTCs). A magnetized wire, introduced via a catheter into a peripheral blood vessel, can then bind to those magnetized CTCs and — according to the Stanford research team — capture many more cancer cells than a standard blood draw.

Only later in the news release do we learn two critical limitations of the research, published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering:

  • “The technique has only been used in pigs so far.”
  • The researchers “have yet to try out the wire in people as they still have to file for approval from the Food and Drug Administration.”

Regardless, the news release proffers “the technique could even help doctors evaluate a patient’s response to particular cancer treatments … perhaps, most intriguingly, the magnetic wire may even stand to evolve into a treatment itself.”

Compelling as that possibility may be, it’s premature to project such human applications from this proof-of-concept study in pigs. The news release highlights that the technique “attracts from 10-80 times more tumor cells than current blood-based cancer-detection methods, making it a potent tool to catch the disease earlier.” That’s in an animal model. Just how it would work in a human with cancer is unknown.

The speculative statements–which were bolstered by some similarly-speculative comments by the lead author himself–also made it into at least two news stories.

  • The Daily Mail said “scientists have developed a magnetic wire that could help doctors detect cancer before patients show symptoms.”
  • UPI, meanwhile, included speculation about the technology’s potential for other diseases. “It could be useful in any other disease in which there are cells or molecules of interest in the blood,” a researcher was quoted as saying.

Not a new idea

There are two other considerations to keep in mind. First, this isn’t a novel research approach. It’s been investigated for at least a decade.

Second–although the news release mentions three funding sources–it fails to mention that five of the 20 study authors have filed for patent protection for the MagWIRE technology used in this study.

Given these caveats, the most appropriate and accurate headline would have been to replace “people” with “pigs” … but who would have clicked on that?

You might also like

Comments

We Welcome Comments. But please note: We will delete comments left by anyone who doesn’t leave an actual first and last name and an actual email address.

We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, or profanity. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. Comments should primarily discuss the quality (or lack thereof) in journalism or other media messages about health and medicine. This is not intended to be a forum for definitive discussions about medicine or science. Nor is it a forum to share your personal story about a disease or treatment -- your comment must relate to media messages about health care. If your comment doesn't adhere to these policies, we won't post it. Questions? Please see more on our comments policy.

Comments are closed.