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Speculation overshadows caution in HealthDay’s snake venom-derived blood thinner story


3 Star


It's Snakes to the Rescue for Heart Patients

Our Review Summary

Animal studies can reveal important scientific insights and, when appropriately reported, can provide useful news for a broader audience. But this story about the therapeutic use of a compound derived from viper venom could have done more to temper expectations. While there’s a nod to the “early” stage of the research, the story’s headline and first paragraphs speculate mainly about a treatment for “human heart patients” that would be safer than existing blood-thinners. We’re far from knowing if this will ever be true–and the story could have established that fact sooner and with more emphasis.


Why This Matters

Current blood-thinning medications have advantages and drawbacks. Because they help prevent blood clots, these medications are useful for reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. At the same time, their blood-thinning action puts patients who take them at increased risk of bleeding, which can be serious. A bloodthinner that prevents heart attacks with a lower risk of bleeding could be a good addition to current treatment options.

That being said, most drugs tested on mice never make it to market, which is why we always urge abundant caution when writing about rodent research.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not discuss costs, but our rule of thumb is: If it’s not too early to speculate about benefits, it’s not too early to talk about what the cost might be.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story describes benefits in qualitative terms, “that mice who received the compound had slower blood clot formation than untreated mice.” However, it provides no specifics on how this was measured or how this might or might not translate to humans. While there was one cautionary statement near the end of the story about the limitations of mouse studies, the story’s headline and first paragraph emphasized claims that the compound might work for “human heart patients.” That’s unbalanced.

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


A source included a risk of blood thinners in general– that they can cause bleeding–so the story gets a Satisfactory rating. But the story could have clarified that other potential harms are unknown at this point.

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


There is little evidence here. There is no discussion of how the study was carried out, no numbers, basically no data.

The story also spent a lot of time speculating about what this compound might do in humans. But it did at least acknowledge the preliminary nature of the evidence, both in the headline and further down: “Still, experiments in animals often don’t translate to success in humans, so further research is needed.”

We’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story did not disease monger.

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

Not Satisfactory

There was at least one independent source. But the story didn’t disclose that the researcher interviewed in the story has a patent application for the compound, and other financial interests that are related.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t discuss existing blood thinners, of which there are several.

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


The story indicates more research is needed before this compound will be available (if ever).

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Although the story’s lede makes it sound like this is a novel idea, the story later explains it isn’t:

“Blood thinner medications have a long and storied history with snake venom,” said Dr Satjit Bhysri, a heart specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. In fact, “many current blood thinners are based on initial experiments from proteins found in snake venom,” he added.

Yet, we never learn why this new compound is different than other products already on the market.

We could go either way with this one but again, we’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

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


The study includes an independent source, and there’s no evidence that it relied excessively on this news release about the study.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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