Be Cautious About Breathless Reports That Trumpet Studies Done in Mice Only

Reports on two cancer studies this week suggested great advancements that on closer look don’t totally deliver. This often happens in coverage of research studies in animals and we thought it would be useful to break it down. It’s important to remember that most animal studies in cancer need to be read with a great deal of caution. There is a long history of promising results in mice, that never reach the bedside.

Take a look at this example. The headline trumpets:”Cannabis Combo Therapy Triples Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rate”. This is a skillfully hyped story that leaves out a key element: the study was done in mice only. In the abstract of the study itself, where the wording must satisfy scientists and not reporters, you get a conclusion which essentially says, “Well, maybe we should try this in humans.”

There was also a similar sense of breathlessness in coverage of another study out of Australia. And while this time the headline was accurate – “Australian researchers develop new drug that puts cancer cells to ‘sleep’ in mice” – the reporter characterized this as a “major step forward” in the world of cancer research. The study is published in a top line journal and this does appear to have potential to be a new kind of approach to attacking cancer cells – but there’s a difference between the reporter’s interpretation and what the researchers actually said which is that they “anticipate that this class of inhibitors will help to accelerate the development of therapeutics that target gene transcription regulated by histone acetylation.”

Scientific enthusiasm is often mistaken for evidence of an accomplishment that will have an impact soon. That’s not always the case.


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