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To Your Health: NLM update Transcript

Two Alzheimer's disease drugs and journalism standards: 08/10/2015

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.

News coverage that recently touted two Alzheimer's disease drugs illustrates both shortcomings and progress in health news reporting standards, finds an interesting critique recently published by Health News Review.

Health News Review, an independent website that critiques medical and public health news coverage, notes some news organizations recently reported two new drugs showed promise for early-stage Alzheimer's patients. Health News Review, a journalism review where health news stories are critiqued based on established criteria of professional excellence, explains several news organizations reported one of the drugs is the first to clear sticky plaques in the brain. In news stories from several news organizations, the latter was hypothesized as a process that might slow the rate of patient decline from Alzheimer's disease, or even boost a patient's cognitive function.

However, Health News Review explains the findings were presented at an Alzheimer's Association International Conference (as opposed to a refereed journal) and were acknowledged to be based on in-process, uncompleted clinical trials that at best provide provisional findings. Health News Review writes (and we quote): 'these are interim studies that merely hint at the possibility that the drugs might be causing beneficial effects in the brain' (end of quote).

More importantly, Health News Review notes the assertion that a drug might clear plaques within the brain and improve cognitive function is not necessarily linked to significant clinical benefits for Alzheimer's patients. Health News Review reports that after reviewing the findings from the drug studies one Alzheimer's expert told NBC News (and we quote): the cognitive measures do not have a direct relationship to clinically apparent benefit' (end of quote).

More positively, Health News Review finds some news organizations compared the efficacy and novelty of the new Alzheimer's drugs with existing alternatives, and noted there would be a significant delay before either of the drugs would be reviewed for approval and available — if ever. Health News Review also commends some news organizations for using external sources and materials to help explain the Alzheimer's drug story's broader significance and for not over-relying on one-dimensional press releases.

Still, Health News Review, which strives to enhance health and medical journalistic standards, asks if the clinical promise of the drugs implied within the news stories is helpful to current Alzheimer's patients, caregivers, and providers, and raises false hopes? While Health News Review notes provisional information about drugs under development may be of interest to investors in pharmaceutical companies, the journalism review retorts more caveats and less hyperbole about the two Alzheimer's drugs should have been provided by more news organizations.

Meanwhile, a basic guide that helps you assess health news reporting (from NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) is available within the 'specific conditions' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page. A specific guide to understanding news reporting about diets and dieting (from the Harvard School of Public Health) also is available in the 'specific conditions' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.

A helpful and broader guide to help you evaluate health information on the Internet (from the National Library of Medicine) is available in the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section.

To find MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page, please type 'evaluating health information' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'evaluating health information (National Library of Medicine).' Health News Review is available at healthnewsreview.org.

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It was nice to be with you. Please join us here next week and here's to your health!