Another Use for Botox
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 17 2002 6:55 AM


Dear Natalie,

A few somewhat scattered thoughts before going to the operating room this morning. I got my New England Journal of Medicine in the mail yesterday, and it contained the stunning news of what appears to be a genuine gene therapy cure for children with severe combined immunodeficiency—the rare but devastating boy-in-the-bubble condition in which kids are born without a functioning immune system. This condition is caused by a single defective gene. Paris researchers found a way to get that vital gene back into the bone marrow cells of five afflicted children. And now, two and a half years later, according to their report, four of those children are leading normal lives with a complete ability to fight back infections and no need for medicines whatsoever. (In the fifth child, the procedure was, sadly, unsuccessful.)

There are lots of things that are interesting about this news. First, this is the first real proof that genetic therapy can really help mankind. There's been lots of hype but until now no sustained results against any disease. So these findings are spectacularly heartening.

Second, the death of Jesse Gelsinger, whom you mentioned yesterday, in a gene-therapy experiment two years ago had cast a deep pall over work of this kind. His death had brought home the magnitude of the risk behind the experiments that were being done and raised questions about whether gene therapy could ever live up to its much-touted promise. It also, as you say, raised questions about the legitimacy of experimenting on kids. (He was 18, but just barely so.) The children in the Paris study were babies when they entered the experiment. Their families agreed to putting them in despite completely uncertain results, significant risks, and the existence of bone marrow transplants which can often control (though not cure) the disease. And yes, it is important to point out that an adult deciding to enter his or her child in an experiment is not nearly the same matter as an adult deciding to enter one him- or herself. But when all the committees have met and the regulations have been passed down, what else are we going do? If progress is to occur, then experiments on children must be done. And the news from Paris is wonderful evidence that genuine progress can occur.

The third and perhaps most interesting aspect of this news for us, though, is that you can't talk about it. Am I right? I got the journal in the mail yesterday and have been e-mailing back and forth with friends ever since, chatting about the different studies reported. But somehow the rules require that you, a reporter, not write anything about the findings until tomorrow. I don't know if this study will actually make the news tomorrow. But how exactly is it that the New England Journal keeps you and your paper from discussing the findings for 24 more hours? After all, the NEJM is the one journal that does NOT send out press releases that it can threaten to take away from you. Or do I have this wrong?

As for Botox, I think we'll have to get back to that one. The only time I've ever considered using Botox, though, was last week for a patient, not with wrinkles, but instead with—I kid you not—an anal sphincter that was too tight. Seems to relax things like a charm. Not exactly breakfast table conversation, though.




More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.