Daily Express cures Alzheimer’s

The front page of the today’s Daily Express, a UK national newspaper, has one of the worst neuroscience stories I have a read in a very long time.

It’s actually on a valuable research project being run by an established team of researchers and involves giving people with Alzheimer’s disease a small digital camera to wear around their neck which takes pictures every 30 seconds.

The person then views the pictures at a later date. There is a rapid presentation mode (10 pictures per second) but the person has the option to view images individually at will.

It isn’t a cure, it’s just a useful way of reviewing events and ‘refreshing’ the memory. This is likely to prevent people with Alzheimer’s forgetting events so quickly if they’re captured on camera.

I say likely, because the research that the Daily Express story talks about hasn’t been published yet, but a single case study on a woman with limbic encephalitis did show it made a considerable difference to her recall of past events when compared to a diary.

Now let’s just pause for a minute and think what sort of headline you’d write if you were going to publish a story on this line of early research.

Obviously someone had the same decision to make at the Daily Express, and came up with:

British scientists bring real hope of a cure

The paper describes the system as involving “a small camera taking photographs every 30 seconds which are then artificially ‘forced’ on to the brain” and says that “In some cases, patients have experienced up to 90 per cent of their memory being restored after just two weeks”.

How they got from ‘viewing pictures on a computer’ to ‘forcing images on the brain’ is anyone’s guess, and presumably the 90% figure is the score on a memory test rather than amount of memory loss restored, although without any published data its hard to say.

So how did this preliminary research make the front page of a UK daily as a “real hope of a cure”?

Microsoft have developed the camera and are funding this project (along with several other similar studies), and I can’t help but wonder whether their PR people have been at work behind the scenes.

Actually, there are other systems that have been around a while now which are equally as interesting. The NeuroPage system is another simple idea.

It’s a pager for people with memory problems and people can program the system to send reminders. So far, early research has found it to be quite effective in helping people with memory impairments.

Despite the hype, the SenseCam project is a great idea and could lead to a genuine benefit to people with memory problems, but it won’t cure Alzheimer’s.

Link to abstract of case study on person with limbic encephalitis.
Link to Microsoft SenseCam and memory loss page.

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