Friday, 2 September 2016

Where to find accurate information on news about drugs for Alzheimer's disease

The recent publication of a clinical trial for a drug (Aducanumab) being developed to treat Alzheimer's disease has hit the mainstream media big time. In all of this commotion, especially when the reporting may not have been written by someone familiar with the field, it can be easy for people to get swept away by the huge media buzz and feel like "this is it! the new wonder drug everyone has been waiting for is finally here!" 

Except that's not quite the case, as it rarely ever is when a scientific story hits the news. Whether its the BBC, online science blogs or your tabloid newspaper of preference, all of these news outlets are competing for your attention and are striving to be the first to break the story. 

I won't go through the study myself, because I'm about to point you to two excellent sources that have already done a brilliant job of it, but there are a few things I want people to clearly see:

  • This is quite an early study and the failure rate of drugs that have reached this stage is still high, especially in Alzheimer's

  • It's primary aim is to show the safety and tolerability of the drug, it is not designed to give clear evidence about its effects on cognition, as the cognitive measurements were clearly listed as "exploratory"

So where can you go to find trustworthy information about science in the news? 

This can be quite difficult, especially depending on the subject, but the NHS has a special Behind the Headlines section which often does an excellent job of giving you the information you need, along with the explanation of how it fits into the rest of the scientific picture. 

Their article on the Aducanumab drug trial is available here

For this specific news article, I would recommend you read this excellent article by my old course-mate for Alzheimer's Research UK

In future you might want to check out which has a team of experts that voluntarily review health news stories and press releases.
You might also want to try and access the original scientific paper. These are often more balanced and cautious than the media coverage itself, but journals often require a subscription or some other form of payment to access the full papers. In future you will see more and more journals that make their articles free to anyone (called open access), but the most prestigious journals that hold most of the major stories still require payment. 

Alternatively, if you just want to know more about the set up of a clinical trial, rather than the results, you can check clinical trials databases such as or EU clinical trials register. You may need to find the clinical trial number in order to find the study you're looking for though.

If you do decide to read scientific papers or clinical trials databases for yourself, health news reviews has a good section for Tips for Understanding Studies. Wherever you get your science news from though, it's always a good idea to try and look a little bit deeper. 


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