The Week That Wasn't: Trebek 'Near Remission,' Rabid Bats, and CRISPR Babies

Dana Najjar


June 07, 2019

Welcome to The Week That Wasn’t. Here are three stories we decided not to cover this week, and why.

Is There Such a Thing as "Near Remission"?

Alex Trebek graced the cover of People magazine this week with a story about the "near remission" of his pancreatic cancer, and the feel-good celebrity news seems to have captured the hearts of people across the United States. We didn't cover the story because we typically avoid celebrity health news (especially of the anecdotal variety), and in this case in particular, we should note that "near remission" is not medically accepted terminology.

According to the Jeopardy host, the term was used by his doctors to describe the news that some of his tumors had shrunk by more than 50% in response to chemotherapy. And while this response may well be cause for optimism, it does not necessarily equate to a near cure, as described by this incisive Health Review News article.

The Strange Case of the Bat in the iPad Cover

Another feel-good story: An elderly man in New Hampshire was bitten by a rabid bat that was hiding in his iPad case, but he got treatment in time to save his life, as reported by WMUR. The incident was newsworthy because of its peculiar circumstances, rather than any medical novelty, and so we passed on it.

That being said, only 1 to 3 cases of rabies in humans are reported annually in the United States. Half of all lethal cases over the past decade have resulted from contact with a bat. So while we won't go as far as recommending that you throw your iPads out, we're glad the man in question had the insight to seek medical attention.

Another Argument Against CRISPR Babies

Last year, a Chinese scientist claimed to have used CRISPR to genetically modify the embryos of two twin girls, with the goal of making them resistant to HIV infection. An article published this week in Nature Medicine suggests that the mutation he attempted to introduce, known as CCR5–delta 32, is associated with a 21% increase in the mortality rate of individuals who have two copies of the mutated gene.

We decided not to cover this news because it isn't clinically relevant to most physicians, who probably won't be making decisions about editing that particular gene anytime soon. What's more, it is still unclear whether the scientist's claims are true and whether he succeeded in introducing the mutation to both copies of the girls' genes. Finally, while the news is largely being covered as an argument against CRISPR-modified embryos, it hardly moves the needle one way or the other: The practice was already widely condemned by the scientific community.

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