The “Quick Study” format is useful because it clearly lays out the nature of the study, the potential importance of the findings, and the limitations. With just a few more sentences, the story could have provided enough context to give readers a fuller picture of this important research.
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition for patients and their loved ones. Currently approved treatments do little more than slow down the progression for short periods of time. New treatments are desperately needed. Insulin delivered through the nose has been previously studied, but the use of the long-acting version of insulin reported on here is new. Though the study shows some benefit, it isn’t clear how the medicine works to improve memory. Nor is it clear how long those benefits will last or whether they can be delivered with adequate safety. Until larger studies with longer follow-up are performed, this novel treatment will remain in the research world.
Neither this story nor a competing story by Fox News discussed costs. The product being studied, Levemir delivered through Kurve Technology’s ViaNase, has been written about for about a decade, and so cost information could have been found and reported.
Neither this story nor a competing story by Fox News actually quantified the benefits adequately. At least the Fox News story talked about the people who took the nasal spray experiencing a “25 percent” improvement in mental function. In both cases, it would have been good to explain how many people in the study saw how much improvement in both groups.
The story gets credit here for pointing out, as part of the explanation of the study’s limitations, that a longer and larger study would be necessary to determine whether the drug is safe as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. The competing Fox News story simply took the lead researcher’s word for it that there were no harmful side effects.
That improvement aside, the story still had a responsibility to report on the harms that were documented in the study, which included dizziness and congestion. The story didn’t do that, which is why we’re rating it unsatisfactory here.
Terrific job making the study’s limitations clear. First, the story labels these in bold type as CAVEATS. It then picks off all the main limitations: small size, short time span, and that “a larger and longer study would be needed to adequately test effectiveness and safety.” We also appreciate the closing disclaimer: “conclusive evidence about a treatment’s effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.”
There is no disease mongering here. And the story does a good job explaining the connection between Alzheimer’s and memory loss.
We give the story credit for recommending that readers go to two independent sources for more information about dementia: ninds.nih.gov/disorders and www.familydoctor.org. However, we think that all health stories could use some perspective — in the text of the actual story — from an independent expert. We realize that a 300-word column like this may never meet our standard here. But we’ll continue hold out for that ideal.
Neither this story nor a competing story by Fox News compared the drug to other FDA-approved therapies for Alzheimer’s or other insulin therapies. The news release actually explains that other therapies are out there for comparison, saying, “Previous trials had shown promising effects of nasally-administered insulin for adults with AD and MCI, but this study was the first to use insulin detemir, whose effects are longer-lasting than those of ‘regular’ insulin.”
Neither this story nor the competing story by Fox News explained that this nasally administered form of insulin is currently only available as part of research studies. The story also offers no informed opinion regarding how long additional testing might take.
The story does not address the novelty of this research. Nasal insulin has previously been studied for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The current study used a longer-acting form of insulin than was used in previous research.
The story does not rely excessively on this news release.