News reports often overhype the potential
benefits of novel treatments for disabling eye diseases, a new study suggests.
and Internet news reports, in particular, tended to be more enthusiastic about
so-called retinal implants than the studies they were based on, researchers
the stories weren't always scientifically accurate. The hope is that such
implants could one day help people who lose much of their eyesight due to
macular degeneration or other diseases that damage the retina. But scientists
are still far from a guaranteed fix. Some of the implants have yet to be tested
"The promise is real. The availability
is non-existent right now except in very limited trials, and the results are
encouraging but honestly fairly limited at this point," Dr Jack Cioffi
said. He is the head of ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Centre in
Many people with vision loss might not get
such a cautious perspective from reading news about retinal implants, Alice
Chuang from Brown University's Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode
Island, and her colleagues found.
Not been proven effective
The researchers analysed 93 news reports
published between 1999 and 2012 that covered studies by six different groups
working on retinal implants. One of the implants, Argus II, was approved by the
US Food and Drug Administration earlier this year to treat a rare inherited
disease that causes blindness.
It was approved under a humanitarian device
exemption, which means the implant has not been proven effective. The rest of
the implants are still in development. The researchers judged the scientific
accuracy, neutrality and realistic outlook of news stories on a scale of 1 to
Higher scores meant the stories better
represented study findings. Newspaper stories averaged scores of about 4 on
each measure. Reports from cable, broadcast and Internet news outlets scored
between 3 and 4 in every category, Chuang's team wrote in JAMA Ophthalmology.
"I don't think this would be true only
about retinal implants. It's probably true about any relatively avant-garde or
innovative research," Cioffi told Reuters Health."The harm of this is
that it heightens patients' expectations, sometimes unnecessarily so."
Grabbing for hope
you can imagine struggling with a life-threatening or vision-threatening
disease, you're grabbing for whatever hope you can grab for." Chuang, a
medical student, said news stories aren't always clear about which patients a
given retinal implant could help, or how far it is from being on the market.
"It's so easy for information to get
lost in translation," she said. But even stories that are overly
enthusiastic about implants and pique reader interest are "not all
"It does open the door for
communication between the doctor and the patient," Chuang told Reuters
Health. And, "In the future, (patients) might have a device that's
available for them." Cioffi said patients come to see him every week with
newspaper or Internet reports about new medical
technologies. "Unfortunately, oftentimes they're oversold," he said.
"If it sounds too good to be true, often it is."