This was a single-source story that didn’t adequately explain availability, costs, limitations of the evidence, or potential harms.
The researchers wrote: “Such a noninvasive approach will avoid the risk of miscarriages of normal pregnancies caused by current, more invasive procedures.” That would be a big step. But there are many big steps that must be taken in the research process before that prediction can play out in reality.
No discussion of cost. If a story can claim that something “may soon be” available, it ought to be able to project cost. Of course, it’s probably way too early to project anything meaningful on either count, but therein lies the weakness in such story framing.
The story stated that the researchers “were able to correctly diagnose 14 cases where there were extra copies of the chromosome and 26 normal fetuses.”
No discussion of potential harms – of sensitivity and specificity issues that can only be established in a much larger trial. The need for a larger trial was mentioned, but no hint of unestablished potential harms.
The story never mentioned the limitation of drawing conclusions from such a small study. Granted, it stated that “the test now needed to be trialed in a larger study of about 1,000 pregnancies” but then concluded “that could lead to changed in clinical practice within two years. That’s a very enthusastic claim for a very aggressive timetable.
No disease mongering.
No independent perspective, which was sorely needed – especially regarding predictions of availability and impact on the field.
The story didn’t even mention any of the other research being done in this field to improve prenatal diagnosis.
Allowing researchers to claim that a test “may soon be” available after a study in just 40 pregnancies is not wise journalism. If the story had turned to an independent expert, perhaps this enthusiasm may have been put into a better perspective. The path to commercialization is likely years in the making.
The story didn’t explain that the test used in the study is actually a group of existing tests. And it didn’t even mention any of the other research being done in this field to improve prenatal diagnosis.
Not applicable because we can’t judge the extent to which the story relied on a news release. We do know it quoted only one of the researchers.