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Gene-Targeted Cancer Fix Could Be a Breakthrough


3 Star

Gene-Targeted Cancer Fix Could Be a Breakthrough

Our Review Summary

Yes, it could lead to a breakthrough, but, after tests on just a few tumor samples (something not disclosed in the article), it could also lead  to something far less than a breakthrough.

The story fell victim to over-enthusiastic language ("…this is the first time the process, known as RNA interference (RNAi), has been shown to work in humans").  To the average reader this would suggest that there was a treatment effect and that is a far cry from what actually was seen.


Why This Matters

At least the story ended with appropriate caution from one expert: "This is the first qualitative ‘yes we can do it’ publication and it really has to be kept in that perspective."  (emphasis added)


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

No costs were discussed, which is understandable at this early stage of research.  Not applicable.

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

Not Satisfactory

Didn’t give readers any sense of how many samples were tested and what the results were.  The Reuters story at least explained that the researchers reported on results in three tissue samples.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story paraphrased the researchers. "The precision of the process is crucial to limiting side effects."  But it never discussed what even the potential side effects of this approach might be.  It would have been relatively easy for the story to have included a few words about the potential downsides, including "off target" side effects during an exaggerated immune response or the shuttinf off of non-targeted genes resulting in adverse outcomes.

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

Not Satisfactory

 The story stated that this was an "early phase clinical trial" but didn’t explain how early – that tissue samples of only three patients were tested.  In addition, the results have not been subject to peer review, something the story didn’t mention. The story also crossed a line when it stated, "The experiment proceeded just as planned, as biopsies later showed."  This would suggest that the study was in fact completed and the results were completely as expected.  However, a more careful review of the letter does not support that view.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable because no diseases were discussed in any detail.

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


Two independent sources were quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of other targeted therapy research – something the Reuters story at least briefly described.

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


Unlike the Reuters story, this story was very clear with this statement:  "Obviously the process will have to be refined and optimized before it’s actually used for treatment."

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Good job on establishing the novelty of this approach – and reminding readers that this work lead to a Nobel Prize in 2006 for research in worms – "a far cry from humans," as the story states.

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


It’s clear the story didn’t rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory


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