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Read Original Story

Drug gives couch potato mice benefits of a workout

Rating

2 Star

Drug gives couch potato mice benefits of a workout

Our Review Summary

When you report on mouse research, you can’t include enough caveats.  This story – about mouse research on compounds to provide the benefits of exercise without the exercise – didn’t place enough emphasis on the lack of evidence of efficacy and safety in humans. Also, the story should have mentioned the process that these drugs will need to go through to determine whether or not they are effective and safe in humans.  The story failed to:

  • explain that one of the compounds is already approved for another use in humans, and so has some track record for harms and for costs – which the story didn’t describe;
  • explain a key aspect of the research – that it examined two target tissues (two specific muscles).  In addition, since the study was conducted in a single strain, meaning a group of genetically identical individuals, it is not known whether the results apply to any other strain of mice, let alone other organisms like people;
  • explain the results in absolute rather than just relative terms.  So the compound-using mice ran 68% longer and 70% farther. What does that mean? Longer and farther than what baseline?

Many news organizations gave this story a lot of space in print and a lot of airtime in broadcast. This just happened to be a story that fell into our cycle for review on that day. In the end, you have to wonder why so many media gave that much attention to a preliminary study in mice. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Although not approved for the use described in the story, cost information about at least one of the compounds described is available and could have been mentioned.

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

Not Satisfactory

While the story provided relative improvement in exercise capacity, it would have been clearer if it had presented absolute improvement.  This might have made it less likely that a reader would simply extrapolate the results from mouse to human. 68% longer and 70% farther than what baseline? 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story only provided the most positive spin of the study results.  There was no mention of the possible downsides (other than doping for athletic events) that might be associated with these compounds.

Given that AICAR is available for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in people, it should have been possible to report on some of the potential side effects.   

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not do an adequate job describing the results of the story it was reporting on.  It would be hard for a reader to assess the value of the study results.  The study examined the impact of the two compounds discussed in a small number of young mice over a short period of time.  While it might be assumed that because the mice could exercise more (run longer and further) that this would mean there were no harmful effects.  But it is very premature to draw this conclusion as they only examined two target tissues (two specific muscles).  In addition, since the study was conducted in a single strain, meaning a group of genetically identical individuals, it is not known whether the results apply to any other strain of mice, let alone other organisms like people.

The story should have mentioned whether or not these drugs are currently even being tested for this indication in people. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story did not engage in disease mongering.  It did engage in couch potato encouraging.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

Two individuals who were not directly associated with the research reported on were quoted as part of this story.  Although we were told where they were affiliated, the story did not explicitly indicate that these two individuals were not involved in the study.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story picked up the notion that was part of the press release about the compounds having potential for use by elite athletes to enhance their performance.  The story did not include much information about means by which an individual might improve their aerobic capacity and exercise capacity in general beyond the use of the compound described in the story.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not explain that one of the compounds, AICAR, is currently used for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The story should have made it clearer that there is no information about the efficacy and safety of these compounds in humans at this time. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story did say that both compaounds have been studied by researchers for other uses.  It should have made clear that one is approved for another use.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

There’s no evidence that the story relied solely or largely on the press release which accompanied the on-line publication of this research study.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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