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Gene therapy raises hope for a future AIDS cure


5 Star

Gene therapy raises hope for a future AIDS cure

Our Review Summary

Our one criticism is for the headline writer, who had to frame it as “hope for a future AIDS cure” despite these caveats in the body of the story:

  • It’s far too early to know if this scientific first will prove to be a cure, or even a new treatment. The research was only meant to show that, so far, it seems feasible and safe.
  • A researcher “warned that it would be ‘way overstated’ to suggest that the results so far are a possible cure”

A competing MedPage Today story had this headline: “HIV-Resistant T Cells on Horizon.” That story said that the researchers “cautioned reporters not to use the word “cure” at this early stage.

But this AP story still used the word “cure” 12 times.


Why This Matters

It is possible to report on very preliminary research – even involving only six people – and even on a topic like HIV/AIDS – and to do so in a reasonable way.  This story achieved that goal – despite the repeated use of “cure”.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


We like this story’s approach.  The story could have easily stated that it’s just too early to know – end of story.  Instead, it stated:

  • “What might this cost? Sangamo spokeswoman Liz Wolffe said it’s too early in testing to guess, but it would be “a premier-priced” therapy – in the neighborhood of Dendreon Corp.’s new prostate cancer immune therapy, Provenge – $93,000″

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


The story gave very specific details on what happened to trial subjects’ cell counts – and over what span of time. Of course it’s too soon to know if those lab results will translate into differences in the peoples’ lives.

But a MedPage Today story carried a more significant statement from a member of the conference program committee:  “We do not know yet from the experiments whether there is any antiviral activity.”

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


Good job in saying: “The only side effect was two days of flulike symptoms. It will take longer to determine safety”

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


Lots of details on what the evidence showed.

Many caveats included.

There could have been some more, though.  A MedPageToday story stated “all six patients involved in the study had well-controlled HIV, so it was impossible to see if there would be a therapeutic effect.” That same story also noted that another presentation at the same meeting gave results of a similar process in mouse research – but the protective effect wore off over time.  This AP story could have included that same information to be more complete.

The story also could have included a reminder that the research was published only as a short abstract and presented at a scientific conference – and that it had not undergone the kind of rigorous peer review that a journal article would be expected to undergo.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering here.

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


Several independent sources were quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


Within the realm of other gene therapy attempts, the story explained, “This is the first time researchers have permanently deleted a human gene and infused the altered cells back into patients. Other gene therapy attempts tried to add a gene or muffle the activity of one, and have not worked against HIV”

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


The story  made it clear that this was a very preliminary report.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story explained this was the first test of the new approach and that a report on a second, federally-funded study was due in another day.

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


It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


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