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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
The news release provides no idea of the research results that lead to statements that the test is “close” or “nearing development.”
There is no disease mongering of Alzheimer’s disease in the release.
Two funding sources for the research are disclosed.
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.
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?
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.
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.”