Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Amy Evans
As we uncover more about our genome, the more we are identifying genes associated with different diseases. In this excellent hour-long documentary Should I test my genes: the price of life? film-maker Adam Wishart meets several people who may (or may not) have a genetic predisposition to a range of different conditions. Although the documentary does not go into much detail about the underlying molecular genetics of the diseases covered, this is a good programme to watch for anyone doing genetics modules that cover human genetics and/or any bioethics modules.
The broad range of topics covered include (with timings for useful clips):
- Overview of the human genome project and potential for genetic medicine (1 min, starting at 1:20)
- Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) (1:47, starting at 23:05)
- Cystic fibrosis (3 mins, starting at 24:57)
- Huntington’s Disease (4:24, starting at 09:00)
- Effects of chromosome translocations (1 min, starting at 22:07)
- Breast cancer (4:45, spliced from two sections starting at 05:33 and 17:00)
- Familial hypercholesterolaemia (4:42, starting at 36:19)
- Sickle cell anaemia (5:24, starting at 40:56)
- ‘23 and me’ genetic test ( 5 mins, spliced from two sections starting at 07:17 and 54:33)
Throughout the documentary, Wishart not only talks to families affected by the various genetic diseases, but also adds his own personal experience. For example, he has to decide if he wants to undergo genetics after his mother, and many other members of his family, had been affected by cancer.
It is really useful to see how the different diseases affect the families, and why families may or may not want to be tested. Testing could take away their fears or make things worse. Testing might also pave the way for preimplantation genetic diagnosis when trying for children (the PGD process is shown in this clip).
Although many people see PGD as a good thing, stopping children being born with a disease, this view is not universal. for example, Professor Michael Baum, one of the world’s leading cancer experts, disagrees with this view. Baum believes that these disease genes may be being co-expressed with other, evolutionary beneficial, genes and thus by selecting embryos that do not contain these genes they may not also contain genes that are of high value.
Although the information given on the genetic diseases is fairly basic, it is still useful to watch for a bit of light revision when studying human genetic disease. Many of the people interviewed decide to be tested, however some people regret this decision, others don’t trust the tests. Wishart tests his genes and finds out that he does not have the mutation tested for, this is then explained, by the genetic counsellor, that his risk is lower (however this does not mean he will not get cancer).
Wishart also decides to try the commercial genetic tests which can be purchased online, from the company ‘23 and me’ which is useful to see how the commercial tests compare with the NHS testing in terms of support and information given.
Wishart criticises many primary care trusts for only considering the short term costs of genetic testing and not the long term benefits, both in terms of health of patients and cost-wise. However, with the NHS putting a large amount of funding into these services each year, and projects such as the 100,000 genomes project starting, this new era of genetic medicine is showing an increase in the use and knowledge of genetic diseases and prevention of these diseases.
Overall this is a good documentary if you are interesting in how genetic medicine is used and the ethics involved when undergoing genetic testing. Further reading may be required to find out more about the different genetic diseases but the documentary gives a basic overview of the conditions discussed.