Opinion: Reporting on the "Not So Much News" News
I don’t know about you, but I subscribe to several “Google Alerts” based on terms important to me, one being multiple sclerosis. This way I can read the latest information and news regarding MS. And, the news surrounding big conferences such as ECTRIMS recently held in Copenhagen or the annual ANA (American Neurological Association) meeting in New Orleans is often exciting.
Among various medically-related news sources, I do have a few favorites. Some of these outfits have experienced medical reporters on staff who are sent to cover big events such as the ECTRIMS conference. I tend to read these articles first.
But earlier this week, I was disappointed to read a “news story” - presented by an author whose name I had come to recognize and published on a respected website - which was anything but enlightening. The reporter seemed to give us the redacted version of a supposedly top secret, classified story in “Striking a Nerve: MS Cured With an OTC Drug?”
The news coming out of medical conferences can be exciting for the MS community. The results of clinical trials are often released at these events. Snippets of groundbreaking research can be hidden in the abstracts and poster presentations. Publicity surrounding research is often considered good for scientists, their academic institutions, and the MS community at large. Even if nothing comes of preliminary research, it is beneficial to be able to see how that research had developed over the years in retrospect.
In the field of MS research, the next big move (the closest we can get to a cure right now) is toward remyelination. Some scientists are using stem cells to encourage myelin production and others are focusing on chemical compounds. Remyelination would basically counter-balance the damaging effects of the disease.
Remyelination is exciting. So when a researcher presents information at a medical conference regarding an upcoming clinical trial that seeks to test a compound which may promote remyelination, you would think that this would be share-worthy news, especially if the compound is found in a common OTC medication.
However, the unnamed researcher didn’t want information regarding the clinical trial and the specific compound to be tested to extend beyond the ANA meeting in New Orleans. Apparently that could be detrimental. MS patients might learn of the potential remyelinating benefits of the OTC drug, go out and start using it indiscriminately, making it difficult for researchers to recruit trial participants who have not used the drug. This drug also may have side effects which could worsen MS symptoms. So, if it is not successful in promoting remyelination, it could cause more harm than good if used inappropriately.
If, on the other hand, this researcher was referring to dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in cough medicines, I wish that the reporter had gone ahead and said so. Positive results from a study of low-dose dextromethorphan (DM) used in mice was published TWO years ago (Chechneva, 2011). In that study, it was found that low-dose DM resulted in decreased demyelination, however high-dose DM did not show a neuroprotective effect. It is logical that the next step would be a small human trial.
The researcher at the ANA meeting reportedly wanted to wait “until there is solid evidence for a net benefit” for patients before word of the drug got out into the MS community. Fair enough.
But I guess that I just expected more from a larger online medical news publisher.
“Striking a Nerve: MS Cured With an OTC Drug?” (Oct 15, 2013) by John Gever, MedPageToday. Accessed at http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/MultipleSclerosis/42267
“Common cough medicine may help treat MS.” (July 7, 2011). University of California Newsroom. Accessed at http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/25896
Chechneva OV, Mayrhofer F, Daugherty DJ, Pleasure DE, Hong JS, Deng W. Low dose dextromethorphan attenuates moderate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by inhibiting NOX2 and reducing peripheral immune cells infiltration in the spinal cord. Neurobiol Dis. 2011 Oct;44(1):63-72. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2011.06.004. Epub 2011 Jun 24. Accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21704706