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New test could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in live patients


5 Star

New test could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in live patients

Our Review Summary

Please read our entire review.  Top to bottom, beginning to end, this story sparkled with the kind of context, clarity, and completeness rarely seen in health care journalism today.



Why This Matters

If you do a search of our past reviews,  you’ll find many stories in a littered landscape of good, bad and ugly stories on Alzheimer’s tests.  This story was one of the best.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story reports, “Lack of coverage for the $3,000 test is the biggest barrier.”

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


The story did a nice job outlining the potential benefit of the test and the number of limitations

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


The story reports:

  • “The test is costly and possibly confusing.”
  • It tells the anecdote of a patient coming to a medical appointment waving a news story about the test and revealing that if had a positive test, he would commit suicide.
  • It reported that the the presence of amyloid doesn’t present patients with a clear picture of what it means or what to do.
  • It reported that drugs to target amyloid have been disappointing so far

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


The story reported: “Recent studies involving Amyvid, which is made by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, an Eli Lilly & Co. subsidiary, have shown that a surprising number of patients thought to have Alzheimer’s didn’t. A paper in the October issue of Annals of Neurology noted that 12 of 53 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by expert physicians had negative PET scans for amyloid.”

But the story’s narrative displayed healthy skepticism and a concern for evidence throughout:

  • 5th paragraph:  “The test is costly and possibly confusing.”
  • But next came one of the most important sections of the story:
    • “Claudia Kawas, a geriatric neurologist at the University of California, Irvine, said a patient strode into her office soon after the FDA approved the procedure and asked for the “Alzheimer’s test.” In one hand, he held an article about the approval of Amyvid. In the other, he had a document from a right-to-die group. If the test was positive, he told her, he would get his affairs in order and kill himself within 60 days.Although she thinks the test can be useful, she was glad her center didn’t have it. She says she wouldn’t have it done on herself, though she’s noticing some memory changes. “The information, I think, wouldn’t help me in any way,” she said.”

That section, as well as any we’ve seen in many recent news stories, showed an appreciation for the value of accurate, balanced and complete news stories on sensitive subjects like Alzheimer’s testing.  We will point to this part of the story with praise for some time to come.

KUDOS to the reporter and to the paper!

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease-mongering in this story.

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


As already noted, the quote from the California geriatric neurologist was crucial.  But other independent experts were quoted as well.  Excellent sourcing.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story did a solid job of reporting on some of the landscape of research into other tests and other biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.

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


The story tells us that the PET scan/radioactive tracer approach was approved by the FDA months ago.  It also explains some of the limitations on availability:

“Rajan Agarwal, an Abington Memorial Hospital radiologist, did the country’s first three commercial Amyvid scans in June and has had no referrals since. Adler also has done three. Though doctors think the test can be a blockbuster, PETNET, a Siemens subsidiary that distributes the tracer, said it had made 100 commercial doses for this region since June.

The tracer is made individually for each patient on test day at 15 sites around the country, then delivered within a 2½-hour radius. …

Lack of coverage for the $3,000 test is the biggest barrier to it here. Medicare’s decision on coverage, which often sets the standard for private insurers, is due by July.”

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The relative novelty of this approach is clear from the story.

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


Clearly, this was not press-release-driven journalism. Rather, it was a fine piece of entrepeneurial health care journalism.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (1)

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Dan Keller

January 3, 2013 at 12:04 am

The story used independent sources but did not mention any potential conflicts of interest. Is it really necessary to “check off” every criterion for every story? If it is, then I believe this article missed the one about comparing the new approach with existing alternatives. There was a quick mention of looking for other biomarkers, which if any mention suffices, then that criterion has been satisfied. But fleshing out that point a bit more would have given better context about where the field stands. Finally, the reader may assume from the article that the test is available through Dr. Agarwal and Dr. Adler, but it may be more informative to say whether they are the only ones in the area providing it or if there are other facilities at which it is available. While the PET scanner hardware probably exists in many local hospitals, reading and interpreting the results require special training from the test manufacturer (available online to physicians).