“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, something that can potentially cure me.”
Brian Madeux made medical history on Nov. 13 when he became the first person to have his genes edited inside his body in an attempt to cure a genetic disease. And the Associated Press was the only news organization to document this experiment, which could advance medicine by giving a potentially safer, more precise and permanent way to do gene therapy. The story wins Beat of the Week.
While many media outlets have focused on a newer gene editing tool called CRISPR, a California biotech had quietly won U.S. approval for first-in-human studies using an older technique.
Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione had written about the company six years ago, and got word earlier this year that the gene editing work would soon begin. She negotiated exclusive rights to the story, giving AP sole access to the patient, doctors and scientists involved. She spent six months reporting the story, teaming with journalists in three cities through several false starts and twists and turns to deliver an all-formats package.
Marchione and San Francisco-based video journalist Haven Daley spent a day in the company’s San Francisco Bay Area headquarters where they got a peek at robots making a treatment similar to what Madeux would get. They also interviewed Madeux and his doctor several days before the experiment originally scheduled for Nov. 6.
The day before it was to happen, Daley was sent to cover the Texas church shootings. San Francisco video journalist Terry Chea stepped in. He and photographer Eric Risberg donned scrubs and disinfected their gear in preparation for the experiment at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland. But a technical issue delayed the experiment.
The duo were on standby and a week later were the only journalists in the room when Madeux received, through an IV, billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot. Scientists won’t know for several months whether the attempt worked.
Marchione followed up with the patient and the exclusive hit the wire on Nov. 15, two days after the experiment.
Health & Science video producer Kathy Young coordinated the shoots and pulled together the video package, which included footage shot by Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston.
Motion graphic artist Marshall Ritzel made an animated explainer of the technique called zinc finger nucleases, which was narrated by science writer Malcolm Ritter. An interactive timeline of key moments in genetics history compiled by Ritter was updated with the latest news and embedded in the story.
The story got huge play. AP was credited by The Washington Post, Atlantic, VICE, Quartz, Gizmodo, Discover magazine, Fast Company and others in their stories. The story appeared on nine front pages. The video was viewed more than 4.5K times on YouTube and received 27 overnight downloads.
For their enterprising work on a groundbreaking story, Marchione, Young, Chea. Risberg and Ritzel win this week’s $500 prize.