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‘Alzheimer’s disease can be fully cured:’ Medical Daily story is a forehead-slapper

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Period Pain Drug Can Cure Alzheimer’s Disease, New Study Suggests

Our Review Summary

Lab Mouse

This is a story about a potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease–although the story sensationalizes mouse research to a degree we don’t see often at HealthNewsReview.org.

These errors seem to stem from an over-reliance on a news release and a lack of critical thinking about the qualify of the evidence from a University of Manchester study. The story could lead readers to think that a cure for Alzheimer’s is imminent, saying in the first sentence, “Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, can be fully cured with an anti-inflammatory drug commonly used for period pain.”

The facts show that the truth is far from what is described. The research was highly experimental, only a proof-of concept, and performed on a tiny number of genetically altered mice.

 

Why This Matters

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of memory loss and dementia in the U.S., affecting millions of people. It is a disease many fear, and it appears to be getting worse at a rate that is faster than can be merely explained away by the aging of the population. News stories that promise way more than the research actually delivers is not only disappointing to readers, it erodes trust.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Costs don’t rate a mention in the story. The drug in question requires a prescription in the United States and is expensive, ranging between $111 and $400 for a 30-day course of treatment.

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

Not Satisfactory

Given the over-the-top headline and first sentence, we would have expected to see at least a little in the way of quantification of the benefits in mice. The story provides no numbers, though. The story says, “Researchers observed that memory loss was fully reversed to the levels seen in mice without Alzheimer’s.”

But even if the story had provided specific study findings on benefits, this was a mouse study–known as a pre-clinical trial. Any benefits measured in mice is far too premature to make any extrapolative statements to people.

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

Not Satisfactory

While the story does allude to harms, there are two problems. First, we are troubled that the explanation was actually taken directly from the news release about the study. Second, we feel that it was too vague and not explored in any meaningful way. The story says only, “they also warned that these ‘drugs are not without side effects and should not be taken for Alzheimer’s disease at this stage–studies in people are needed first.'” What are the side effects? We’re not told.

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

Not Satisfactory

This is perhaps the biggest failing of the piece. The article makes no mention of multiple areas that should give readers pause:

  1. No mention of the fact that these weren’t just regular mice. These were transgenic mice, meaning they were genetically manipulated to create certain traits. Even if the quality of the evidence in these mice was solid — which it isn’t — it would not have broad application to other mice, let alone humans.
  2. No mention of the fact that this study only looks at some biochemical pathways and not at any clinically significant changes. Similar effects on humans is speculative at best, and it could be years, if not decades, before we can even study this in humans or see any relevant results in non-four-legged animals.
  3. No mention of how many mice were studied. (Looks like it was only three.)
  4. No mention of how the mice’s “memory loss” was assessed or quantified before/after the administration of the medication
  5. No mention of what the markers for “brain inflammation” were and how the researchers assessed their reversal.
  6. No mention of the study’s methods

The study, which is available for free online, is complex and would be hard even for other researchers to understand.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is no disease mongering in the story.

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

Not Satisfactory

There are no independent sources in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentions, near the top, “no drug medications can successfully treat chronic neurodegenerative disease, but certain medicines can help alleviate symptoms or slow down the progression.” This barest of nods toward alternatives earns it a just-passing Satisfactory rating.

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

Satisfactory

It says that the drug being studied is “a common Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug (NSAID).” This is true for readers in the UK (where the study originates), so we’ll rate this Satisfactory. However, for readers in the U.S. (Medical Daily is an American-owned news site), this is not the case, and it would have been helpful to explain the drug is available by prescription in the U.S., though it is not commonly used.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

There is a discussion about how this class of drugs may be developed as “a class of existing drugs that are likely to treat Alzheimer’s.”

“Likely” is probably a stretch here, but certainly there seems to be an effort underway to investigate the use of known drugs and “re-purpose” them. So there is some discussion of novelty here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story has no independent sources, and uses language from the news release nearly verbatim in multiple places. For example:

News release: Memory loss was completely reversed back to the levels seen in mice without the disease.

Story: Researchers observed that memory loss was fully reversed to the levels seen in mice without Alzheimer’s.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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