Last week, the journal Cell Metabolism published a study in mice exploring the interactions between the compound resveratrol (which some research indicates may promote health) and genes associated with longevity.
That it produced a virtual flurry of coverage owes much, I think, to our journalistic love for research extolling the virtues of wine. But in this case, one could also argue, that the hyperbolic press reports that followed also owed much to the hyperbolic press release announcing the study.
How hyperbolic? Well the study is titled "SIRT1 Is Required for AMPK Activation and the Beneficial Effects of Resveratrol on Mitochondrial Function." Knowing that, it might surprise you know that the title of the press release suggests something far, far more encompassing: "Study resolves controversy on life-extending red wine ingredient, restores hope for anti-aging pill."
Wow, you might say, there's a big difference - not to say a Grand Canyon-sized gap - between those two end points. And that's exactly what caught the attention of Ivan Oransky over at his blog, Embargo Watch. Oransky didn't mess around with his title either: "A truly appalling press release from Cell Press on “life-extending red wine ingredient.”
As he points out, there's plenty of remaining controversy surrounding "the compound whose trials Glaxo Smith Kline stopped after paying $720 million for a company developing resveratrol called Sirtis. The release is cagey about why those trials ended (hint: kidney problems). But the release doesn’t stop there."
Derek Lowe, an organic chemist and blogger at In the Pipeline (mostly about pharmaceuticals) agreed, only more so: "The EmbargoWatch web site calls it a "truly appalling" press release, and while I can't disagree with that, I don't think it particularly stands out: a lot of press releases are appalling."
Still Lowe notes that although over-hyped, the study itself raises a couple of interesting points about health, aging and epigenetics. Both he and Oransky agree that best story resulting from the paper is this one from Ewen Callaway at Nature News, titled rather neutrally "Row Over Resveratrol Rumbles On."
But I also liked the straightforward job done by Monica Dybuncio at CBS News, "Study Examines Red Wine's Anti-Aging Ingredient, Reservatrol" And this one from George Dvorsky at io9 which puts the findings into context of the ongoing anti-aging pharmaceutical quest.
Most of the coverage, unfortunately, was of the let's-celebrate-at-the-bar variety. But my thought was that we do the celebrating when we see more reporting of the actual study and less recapitulation of the glowing press release. At that point, promise, I'll pick up the tab.
--- Deborah Blum