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Newsweek stokes false hope with ‘cure for baldness’ based on preliminary evidence

Rating

3 Star

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NEW CURE FOR BALDNESS COULD BE FOUND IN EXISTING DRUG, SCIENTISTS SAY

Our Review Summary

hair lossThis news story hyped lab findings as evidence that a potential “cure” for baldness could be on the horizon. Researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that a substance called Cyclosporine A (CsA), which has been used to treat immune disorders and transplant rejection, affected a protein that stunts the development of hair follicles. They then identified an osteoporosis drug called WAY-316606 that has a similar effect on hair follicles in the lab, but could potentially have fewer side effects than CsA.

The story didn’t say anything about the quality of the study and misleads readers about the implications and timeline.

 

Why This Matters

Hair loss is extremely common and can be distressing, but it’s not harmful. News stories that trumpet early findings on this topic should explain up front that potential advances are years away, if they come at all. The headline and early paragraphs may create false hope.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Arguably it’s too early to know anything about how much this treatment might cost. But, if it’s not too soon to speculate about a “cure,” it also could be argued that it’s not too soon to address cost impacts. This was a tough call, but we went with N/A because of how early the research is.

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

Not Satisfactory

Since WAY-316606 hasn’t apparently been tested on actual human heads, there are no benefits to quantify, but that didn’t stop the story from suggesting benefits, stating the drug “could hold the key to the cure for baldness.”

The story stated that CsA “changed how the follicles expressed a protein called SFRP1, which stunts the development and growth of hair follicles and other tissue in the body,” and that WAY-316606 “has a similar effect” and “could therefore be used to treat baldness.”

The story had no data on the size of the effect this drug had on hair follicles in the lab.

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

Not Satisfactory

The need to study the safety of WAY-316606 was mentioned, but should have been higher in the story. The story would have been stronger if it had mentioned whether the drug’s safety has been studied previously, and what the results if any showed. It was a missed opportunity to highlight known harms of a drug already on market.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t say anything about the quality of the study and misleads readers about the implications and timeline (even “still some way to go” seems like an understatement).

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

We take issue with the use of the word “cure” because it implies that hair loss is a lethal or seriously disabling medical disease that needs to be remedied. While hair loss can be distressing, it is not a disease.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story had an independent source — a “statement” from the British Association of Dermatologists. However, the story didn’t explain that the study was sponsored by Giuliani SpA, an Italian pharmaceutical company that makes dermatology products.

An independent source knowledgeable about research and drug development–rather than a professional association’s spokesperson statement–would have helped here.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story said current treatments for hair loss “are limited to two FDA-approved drugs, mioxidil and finasteride, which have mixed results. The other option is minimally invasive hair transplant surgery.”

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

Satisfactory

The story made it clear that this is early research and human testing hasn’t even begun yet.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story quoted the lead researcher saying WAY-316606 “had never even been considered in a hair-loss context.”

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

Satisfactory

The story didn’t rely solely on a news release. (It did cite it, though.)

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory

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