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Read Original Story

Scientists reprogram adult cells’ function

Rating

2 Star

Scientists reprogram adult cells’ function

Our Review Summary

The lack of context in medical reporting is a key failing in many reports and this story is no exception.  A great deal of research is underway in diabetes and other chronic diseases.  By not placing the story in context, the uninitiated reader is left with an incorrect assumption that the approach is unique and perhaps available soon. 

The results of the study reported on have not been replicated.  The study was conducted in mice without an intact immune system in a laboratory model of induced diabetes.  These are two significant factors to consider when thinking about the applicability of the results to humans.  Further – as this was a proof of concept experiment, there was no longer term analysis to determine whether there were significant side effects associated with the treatment or whether the treatment had durability. While viral vectors may hold promise, there are considerable difficulties in the application in humans. These points could not have been emphasized enough – and were not – not when references to cures and holy grails were included.

The story clearly tried to achieve balance with some of the comments from some of the sources interviewed, but we don’t think balance was achieved.   

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There was no cost estimate because there has not actually been a treatment developed yet that makes use of the approach described in the research.

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

Not Satisfactory

Framing this approach as one that could someday cure not only diabetes, but also heart disease, stroke, and ‘many other ailments’ is troubling.  This extrapolation to diseases other than diabetes was not supported by the data presented in the study reported on.  There is a great gulf between proof of concept in an animal model and cinical application in a single disease.  Suggesting the same approach could be applied to other diseases is pure speculation that is not supported by the data in the Nature study.

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of possible harms that might be associated with gene therapy even though there have been human deaths resulting from the use of viral vectors to alter gene expression.

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

Not Satisfactory

The results of the study reported on have not been replicated.  The study was conducted in mice without an intact immune system in a laboratory model of induced diabetes.  These are two significant factors to consider when thinking about the applicability of the results to humans.  Further – as this was a proof of concept experiment, there was no longer term analysis to determine whether there were significant side effects associated with the treatment or whether the treatment had durability. While viral vectors may hold promise, there are considerable difficulties in the application in humans. These points could not have been emphasized enough – and were not – not when references to cures and holy grails were included.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story did not engage in disease mongering. 

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

Satisfactory

The story did include interview material from individuals not directly connected with the study reported on. And the story did include a comment from a stem cell researcher indicating that it is likely not a quick, straight shot from these results to use in people. The other sources interviewed provided a modicum of balance.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Applicable

There was no discussion of treatment options; however this story was not actually about a treatment but a highly-experimental approach in mice.

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

Not Satisfactory

While the story was clear that this highly experimental approach in mice is currently not available for humans, it provided a wholly unrealistic estimate for its application to human disease.  

Although interesting from a number of perspectives, the story is about a novel but relatively untested approach to managing diabetes in mice.  The story is somewhat excessive in its language related to the potential for this approach suggesting the line of research will indeed be transferable to humans in a relatively brief period of time. While some caveats are included, we don’t think balance was achieved. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The approach described – while novel – is certainly not unique (viral vector for treatment of a chronic disease).  Additional comments on the approach used by other reseachers would have added a needed balance.

 

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

Satisfactory

Does not appear to rely on a press release.

Total Score: 3 of 8 Satisfactory

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