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Experimental treatment may help food allergies

Rating

2 Star

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Experimental treatment may help food allergies

Our Review Summary

Strong point:

  • The story included appropriate caveats and didn’t promote any false hope.

Weaker points:

  • It didn’t specify or quantify the benefits or harms seen in the small study.  So parents who are very interested in this research can’t immediately grasp the scope of the work.

 

Why This Matters

The headline, “Experimental treatment may help food allergies,” promises more than what the story delivers.

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There wasn’t any estimate given of the cost of oral immunotherapy, nor of the drug mentioned at the end of the article that is being studied for use against food allergies.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story reported benefits in this way:

The results suggested that children who went through a year of sublingual therapy followed by one to two years of oral immunotherapy were less likely to have significant allergic reactions when undergoing the oral immunotherapy. Still, it did not eliminate all symptoms.

Why not quantify/specify what terms like these really mean:

  • “less likely” – how much less likely?
  • “significant allergic reactions” – measured how? What does “significant” mean in this context?
  • “did  not eliminate all symptoms” – so, how many still had symptoms,and how “significant” were they?

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

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t quantify/explain the extent of “significant reactions during the treatments that make the therapy unfeasible” in the new sublingual approach.

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

Satisfactory

There were appropriate caveats about the limitations of the research:

  • “may one day allow…”
  • “it’s still in the early stages….”
  • “small experiment with 30 children…”
  • “It’s not known yet whether children respond better to this kind of treatment than adults, since there have been so few participants in this research.”

One thing that could have been improved: The story mentioned that the study was “published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology” but didn’t link to it as we do here. Basing the story on the talk at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and not linking to the journal article might mislead people if they take that to mean it hasn’t undergone the same rigorous peer review as a journal article.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

NO disease mongering at play here.

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

Not Satisfactory

There wasn’t any independent voice in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story at least ended with mention of one other approach being studied:

Researchers are separately looking at a drug called omalizumab (Xolair), approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of severe asthma, to see if it could help people with food allergies, too.

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

Not Satisfactory

As noted, the story made it clear that this is preliminary research and that the approach “may one day” be available.

Then the story quoted the researcher estimating that “the treatment could be brought to the public within six to eight years.”

This is not entirely accurate, as oral immunotherapy for food allergies (including milk allergy) is currently being administered clinically by a handful of physicians. The concept behind the treatment (basically, exposing patients to food proteins) is not FDA regulated, and so there is theoretically no barrier to physicians offering this type of therapy to their patients. Citing the potential for adverse reactions and other concerns, however, most experts say that it is much too soon to use oral immunotherapy outside of a research setting. And so the story’s bottom line message about availability is correct for the vast majority of patients. Still, the estimate of availability “within 6 to 8 years” may cause confusion to parents who have heard, via allergy blogs or other media sources, that it is already available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story noted other immunotherapy research that’s been done, but stated “This is the first time the sublingual therapy has been studied in terms of its benefit as a precursor to the oral immunotherapy.”

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

Satisfactory

It does not appear that the story relied solely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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