This news release reports on a study examining substances that will stop preterm births by stopping uterine contractions. The researchers looked at strips of uterine tissue from both humans and mice, initiated contractions in the tissue using chemicals known to bring on labor, and then tested a bitter substance on the tissue. They write that this substance decreased contractions more effectively than current drugs used for this practice. They also briefly mentioned they tested the same drug in pregnant mice.
The release neglects to share the name of the “bitter substance” (chloroquine) used to halt contractions in the human and mouse tissue, nor does it say how the experimental substance compared with any of the current treatments or name any of them.
The release also would have served readers better by including a clear explanation that bitter taste receptors — usually only associated with the tongue — also exist in other cells in the body and that stopping early contractions is not always the best course of treatment.
Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant mortality, according to the National Institutes of Health. The World Health Organization states “Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure; however, often no cause is identified.”
While not all babies born prematurely experience complications, being born too early can lead to short or long-term health problems. Stopping early labor may be one preventative way to reduce risks from preterm birth.
A variety of drugs are currently used for stopping early contractions but have limited effectiveness and may carry risks.
There is no discussion of the cost of this treatment. If it’s not too early to send a news release touting a potential new treatment — even one that is in the earliest stages of development — it’s not too early to address cost.
Chloroquine, the unnamed substance in the release, when used to treat malaria costs about $4 a tablet. The release doesn’t say whether the drug would be given as an injection or tablet when used to stop early contractions.
The release should have mentioned some results with actual numbers from the research to indicate how superior this bitter substance was when tested on tissue samples. However, that still would not prove it’s beneficial to humans since the research was in laboratory mice and tissue samples. Hinting that it will translate to humans at the same level, in real world trials, is inappropriate.
The harms of preterm birth are explained, but nothing is said about the possible harm of the drug — even to pregnant mice and fetuses.
The release states that “Zhuge and colleagues attached strips of human and mouse uterine myometrium tissue (also known as smooth muscle) to a machine that measured their contraction efforts.” This strikes us as an inappropriate estimation of how this treatment would work in humans. Some cautions and limitations of the research in this regard were sorely needed.
There is no disease mongering in this news release. Premature birth resulting in complications or death are a known problem around the world.
We do think the release relies on exaggerations that should have been avoided:
The news release does not list the funding sources, although the paper does list them. There is no mention of conflict of interest in either the published study or the news release.
The news release only makes passing reference to the bitter substances being better than other treatments. It does not name the bitter substance used in the study or any alternatives.
The news release does not mention the name of the substances tested, so there is no way to know anything about availability. After looking at the research paper we found that the substance was chloroquine which is readily available.
The research focuses on a novel approach to preterm contractions but it is still far from human testing.
The release doesn’t rely on sensational language. As noted above under disease mongering,we found some examples of exaggeration in the release.