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Data-free news release’s unsubstantiated claims about “close” Alzheimer’s test

Researchers close in on a blood test for Alzheimer's disease

Our Review Summary

Those who communicate research results about devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s should be prepared to present data to help readers assess the scope of the advances that are announced.  This news release failed to deliver any such data.  Worse, it catapulted beyond Alzheimer’s to say that the blood test being researched had shown promise in Parkinson’s, MS and breast cancer – without anything to back that up.

 

Why This Matters

We have been down this road so many times in the past – with news releases or news stories claiming an imminent test for Alzheimer’s disease.  We – and we think the general public – become numb to the news.  And that is unfortunate.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Our longstanding policy is that if it’s not too early to use such phrases as “nearing development of a blood test” or “closing in on a blood test” – as this story does – then it’s not to early to give at least a ballpark estimate of what this supposedly imminent test would cost.  There is no discussion of cost in this story,

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

Not Satisfactory

No details are given about how the test has performed.  Nothing about sensitivity or specificity.  If the test is “nearing development,” the researcher should be able to provide positive and negative predictive values – the best measures to judge the performance of such a test.  How many people who test positive really have the disease, and how many who test negative don’t?

Then, in this data-free zone in which this news release resides, it goes even further beyond Alzheimer’s to say that “the blood test has also shown promise in detecting other diseases, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.”  Again, without a shred of evidence provided.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Without discussing sensitivity or specificity, the news release gives no picture of the potential for false positives or false negatives – always potential harms with any test.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The news release provides no idea of the research results that lead to statements that the test is “close” or “nearing development.”

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is no disease mongering of Alzheimer’s disease in the release.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

Two funding sources for the research are disclosed.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

If you simply looked on our website, searching for past news about supposedly imminent Alzheimer’s tests, you would get dizzy going down the trail of past promises.  Much less if you did a literature search.

This story provides no context about other work in the field, while providing no information about how the performance of this test sets its apart from others.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

What does “closing in on a blood test” mean?

What does “nearing development of a blood test” mean?

Does it mean a month? A year? A decade?

And on what basis are these crystal ball predictions made?

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

No information is provided to establish the novelty of this particular research approach, compared with myriad other research studies pursuing possible tests for Alzheimer’s.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Not Satisfactory

We find it unacceptable to drop in this completely-unsupported-by-any-evidence line in the middle of the news release:

“The blood test developed by Dr. Nagele has also shown promise in detecting other diseases, including Parkinsons’s, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.”

Total Score: 2 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (4)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Jerry Carey

October 26, 2015 at 8:33 am

I began following your site a couple of months ago and appreciate your views on this release. Your comments will help to improve my reporting of research results in the future (full disclosure: I am a media/PR rep for Rowan University).
In fairness, though, I believe the AOA’s release was intended to announce that Dr. Nagele was presenting some interim results on the progress his team was making. Although, as you note, there were no specific results mentioned, he has published extensively, including initial results as early as 2011 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0023112) and in subsequent articles. The interim results referred to in the current release were also included in a poster presentation at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this past summer, in Washington.
I also want to mention that his most recent research results toward the development of this test as a way to diagnose and stage Parkinson’s disease and differentiate it from other diseases were reported at the end of September in a 398-subject study published in Immunology Letters (http://bit.ly/1ORdZTY) and promoted by Rowan University in a news release (http://bit.ly/1R8L2k8).
Again, thanks very much for your feedback and for the excellent work you do with Health News Reviews.

Reply

    Gary Schwitzer

    October 26, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Jerry,

    Thanks for your note and for your open-minded approach to our critique.

    Regardless of the intent of the AOA news release, it clearly didn’t deliver the information that you just provided in a brief email comment.

    Thanks for your kind comments about our project.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

    Reply

Paul Swiergosz

October 26, 2015 at 9:14 am

Good catch. Hope you don’t mind if we share your article/conclusions. This makes a great mini-case study in how “not to” make news – http://wp.me/p4Rrr3-qq

Reply

    Gary Schwitzer

    October 26, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Paul,

    Thanks for your note, and, yes, please share.

    We’re here to teach and to help. So if you can help spread the lessons, have at it.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

    Reply