When I started blogging about Alzheimer’s and dementia, people began sending me links to information about miracle cures for memory loss. I’ve received entire books about “hidden discoveries” and Alzheimer’s conspiracies in the mail. So far, none of the information (including an analysis I received a few weeks ago explaining how oral sex causes Alzheimer’s!) has been backed up by careful research. So when I saw excerpts of a press release about a new “miracle” cure for Alzheimer’s early this month in the Alzheimer’s Daily News (“Alzheimer’s Treatment Shows Promise”), I didn’t pay much attention.
But it turns out other media outlets were repeating the words of the press release, and attaching sensational headlines. ScienceDaily’s headline read “Reversal of Alzheimer’s Symptoms Within Minutes In Human Study” and FOXNews.com said “Study: Arthritis Drug Shows Promise in Reversing Symptoms of Alzheimer’s.”
It’s no surprise that Alzheimer’s message boards are full of emails about this “study,” which is really a case report published in The Journal Of Neuroinflammation. The case report tells about a man with probable Alzheimer’s who appeared to show immediate improvement (“within minutes”) when the arthritis drug Enbrel was injected into his spine. This “study” is not a clinical trial, and involved only one patient. The journal also published a link to a video [look under Additional Material - requires Apple QuickTime to view] “depicting family’s description of change in patient.”
Articles about this report were published with little or no investigative journalism or analysis. Many appear to simply repeat, word for word, a press release from the University of Arkansas. [This was weird in and of itself - why would we rely on a University of Arkansas press release about research supposedly conducted at UCLA and USC?] Most of us still harbor hopes for a cure for memory loss, and we want to believe Alzheimer’s headlines. Irresponsible reporting may drive advertising revenues, but it doesn’t help us sort through what might be helpful and what’s simply hype.
Gabrielle Strobel has published a careful analysis of this case and the circumstances surrounding the report on the Alzheimer Research Forum site. I also like Dr. Peter Whitehouse’s comments during an ABC interview, published on his Beyond The Myth blog.