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Gene therapy shown to destroy leukemia tumors


4 Star


Gene therapy shown to destroy leukemia tumors

Our Review Summary

Reuters fell a little short in comparison to WebMD in writing about a very small but promising study into a new treatment for the most prevalent form of leukemia. The story did a solid job explaining the findings, but it touched too lightly on the side effects of the treatment and the hard road ahead to find a clinical application. We give Reuters high marks, though, for finding an outside expert who could temper some of the enthusiasm found in quotes from the authors in both this story and the WebMD piece. We also like that Reuters at least raised the issue of costs.


Why This Matters

As both stories note, researchers have been trying to find a way to use genetically engineered cells to fight cancer for 20 years, making even a small study like this interesting news. Both stories sounded some cautionary notes, but Reuters could have more thoroughly shown that the study’s results were promising but not proof that a cure for leukemia is within sight.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


While WebMD missed the cost component, Reuters smartly raised this issue and discussed how future research will be funded. “All of the funding for the University of Pennsylvania’s gene therapy work has come from the academic community, but the work is expensive. ‘We are looking for corporate partners as we head into Phase II trials,’ Kalos said.”

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


As in the WebMD story, this story stated that, “Two participants in the Phase I trial have been in remission for up to a year. A third had a strong anti-tumor response, and his cancer remains in check.” The WebMD story provided more details, though.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story gave short shrift to potential harms. The WebMD story stated more plainly that patients suffered debilitating side effects and, in one case, had to be treated with steroids that may have hindered the effectiveness of the cancer therapy.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story allowed the study’s authors, who are understandably excited by the findings, to make overly effusive statements that overshadow some of the more cautionary notes in the story. For example, the story quotes Dr. Michael Kalos saying, “We put a key onto the surface of the T-cells that fits into a lock that only the cancer cells have.” The story then goes on to say that the patients “had to be treated with an immunity-boosting drug since the targeted molecule, CD-19, is also present on certain normal immune-system cells.” That doesn’t sound like a key that only fits cancer.  The story could have overtly addressed this dissonace to help explain it to readers who may have been confused.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story did not engage in disease-mongering.

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


Both stories cited just one outside source. The Reuters story, though, did a superior job here by quoting someone who had some words of caution. Dr. Walter Urba of the Providence Cancer Center in Portland warned that “the long-term viability of the treatment is still unknown.”

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

We were surprised to see no mention of radiation, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants in this story. At a minimum, the WebMD story discussed bone marrow transplants.

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


The story does note the study is a Phase 1 trial iin the 4th sentence and also notes that researchers intend to enroll four more subjects. WebMD did a better job showing that, even for people hoping to enroll in a trial for this therapy, the odds will be long.

We wish stories would take for granted that readers know what Phase I and Phase II means.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Satisfactory job establishing the novelty – even in the first line of the story.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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