This story reports on two trials of a new treatment aimed at helping to reduce the risk of long-term lung problems in babies born very prematurely. While it makes note of both the expense of the new treatment as well as the challenges in deciding which infants are more likely to benefit from it, the story does not do as good a job as it could at describing the problem of interest, how the study was done, or of providing support for some expert statements that are included.
For example, the story implies that all babies in both studies received nitric oxide therapy, when in fact the trials were both randomized, and one was blinded and placebo-controlled as well. This detail is important because it helps to reinforce the validity and strength of the findings–results from a randomized trial are often more reliable than those from trials in which all participants receive a therapy, or those in which patients are selected to receive a therapy. The fact that infants in both groups–those who received the therapy and those who didn’t–had similar rates of adverse effects means that nitric oxide as used in the studies appears to be safe.
The story did not explain how big the potential benefit was. No details were provided on the numbers of infants who either did or did not develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia or other outcomes among each group.
It would have been helpful to know more about the expert cited in the story–his quote stating that this therapy is “not a rescue therapy for dying babies,” helps to place this new information in context, but when he goes on to say that it is the therapy for the majority of premature babies who survive, it implies that nitric oxide has already been adopted as standard of care. In fact, it is still experimental.
The story notes that nitric oxide is expensive; however, it does not give any support or evidence for the quoted expert’s statement that the treatment might be cost-effective in the long run.
No details are provided on the numbers of infants who either did or did not develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia or other outcomes among each group. It would also have been more helpful to frame the findings positively; for example, to state that the therapy did seem to help infants who weighed at least 2.2 pounds, rather than saying it had little impact on those who weighed less.
The story notes that there were no apparent adverse effects of the therapy; however, it’s less clear that despite therapy, premature infants who have severe breathing problems often have a number of other health challenges.
The story did not include enough details about the design of the study for a reader to be able to put the reported findings into perspective.
If anything, the story might have actually understated the consequences of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which can also be associated with brain injury and problems with development of the brain and nervous system.
The story cites both an editorial that accompanied the original studies as well as a physician from a local hospital. However, it does not note whether that physician took part in the study or had any ties to companies that supply nitric oxide.
The story does not note whether other therapies are either available or under study for this condition.
It is not clear from the story whether or when this therapy might become available, if it is proven to be safe and effective.
The story attempts to put this therapy into context by explaining why nitric oxide is thought to help, but misses the mark by suggesting that ALL premature babies are ‘fed the gas,’ when in fact this approach is investigational. The statement that ‘premature babies are thought to be deficient in nitric oxide’ is also not quite accurate.
The story does not appear to have relied on a press release.