Readers should care that this report just briefly summarizes one experiment using the active ingredient in Viagra to treat heart problems in mice that were genetically modified to have a condition similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy… without interviewing either the researchers or independent experts… and also failing to note that the drug is already being tested in people that have the actual disease.
We also note a relatively minor point, but still worth noting for anyone who wants to look up the source of the story’s claims.
There’s an oft-quoted saying about publicity: "I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." This story fails that test by misspelling the name of the only researcher it identifies. (The story refers to Joseph Beavoa. The PNAS and the University of Washington both spell his name as Beavo.
Animal experiments may be an important early step for learning more about basic biomedical problems, but they are of limited relevance to people.
Even though this line of research is preliminary, the story should have noted that typical treatment for pulmonary hypertension patients who use the Revatio brand of sildenafil costs more than $15,000 a year and that since the drug does not cure the disease, this sort of treatment might well continue indefinitely.
The story has just a vague reference to treating heart symptoms. It does not offer any specific data, not even about the mice in this trial.
The story fails to mention any of harms of sildenafil, which include:
* sudden severe loss of vision (see below for more information)
* blurred vision
* sudden decrease or loss of hearing
* ringing in ears
* erection that is painful or lasts longer than 4 hours
* dizziness or lightheadedness
* chest pain
* worsening shortness of breath
* itching or burning during urination
Sildenafil may also interact with other prescription drugs.
What’s more, the story failed to note that the continual administration of sildenafil over many months used in this study (and the sort of life-long daily treatment that would be envisioned in human patients) is more like the way the drug is used in patients with pulmonary hypertension and completely different from the occasional doses of the Viagra brand form of the drug used by men to treat erectile dysfunction.
This story included some caveats, such as the fact that researchers don’t understand how the drug works in the lab animals and that the mice used in the experiment have “a condition similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” not the actual disease. However, any story reporting the results of animal experiments should alert readers to the fact that very few treatments that emerge out of animal testing ultimately pass human testing.
The story points out that Duchenne muscular dystrophy affects about one in 3,500 males.
The story gets credit for reporting that the study was funded by the NIH and non-profit groups. But it does not appear that anyone was interviewed for this story, neither researchers nor independent experts. The quotes are excerpts from the journal article.
The story does not tell readers about how the heart problems of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are currently managed, nor does it offer any explanation of how sildenafil treatment might compare to standard therapy.
The story reports that sildenafil is the drug in Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction, and also Revatio, which is used to treat pulmonary hypertension. The story would have been better if it referred to the active ingredient in Viagra, rather than Viagra itself, and had pointed out that to treat heart problems, the drug would be given continually (as it is for pulmonary hypertension) and not just occasionally as it is when used to treat erectile dysfunction.
The story reports the new finding of this study in its next-to-last sentence, while leading with old news. The researchers wrote that to their knowledge “this is the first report of rapid reversal by a drug treatment of the functional symptoms seen in the established cardiac dysfunction that occurs in mdx mice.” But the story lead is that the drug “might help treat heart symptoms of muscular dystrophy”… something that has been reported previously not only in mice, but is already being tested in people. This story does not appear to put this latest study in the proper context of other experiments.
Revatio for Heart Disease in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (REVERSE-DMD)
The story quotes the journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It does not appear to rely only on a news release.