Miracle cure? A decade of the human genome (Horizon)

Sophie has cystic fibrosis. Gene therapy might free her from a rigorous daily routine

Sophie has cystic fibrosis. Gene therapy might free her from a rigorous daily routine

Broadcaster: BBC 2

Year: 2010

Genre: documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/291912

Review by Amy Evans

“Picture a world where cancer was cured by a packet of pills”. Miracle cure, an episode of the BBC Horizon series, looks at the promises and hopes to come following the sequencing of the human genome and how, a decade on from the initial publication of the complete sequence, the information gained from the mammoth effort has been helpful. This is a good program for anyone interested in the human genome project, the growing “genomics” field and bioethics.

This program follows three people, each with a different genetic condition, in order to find what genomic might mean for them; Sophie has cystic fibrosis, Emma had cancer and Tom is an alcoholic. It is interesting that they included addictions, such as alcoholism, since this is a more controversial condition, which not many people would think as having a genetic component.

A strength of this programme is the emphasis placed on the interaction of these genes with the environment in developing these conditions. On the down side, they don’t mention epigenetics which would have be interesting (I suspect if it was made now, they would have included this). They also do not go into much detail about the specific genetics of the conditions. However the key topics covered are is given but it covers key topics:

Gene therapy: http://bobnational.net/record/291933 (16 minutes; this clip is spliced from three sections on gene therapy). It is interesting to hear how well the gene therapy trials progressed after the release of the human genome sequence and this section touches on the ethics of ‘playing God’ in gene therapy. Sophie meets Rhys Evans who was an early recipient of gene therapy for CF. She also visits scientists looking at gene delivery.
For more information on gene therapy and cystic fibrosis follow this link.

Cancer: http://bobnational.net/record/291950 (15 minutes; spliced from three cancer clips). Advances in cancer treatments were one of the main goals when the Human Genome Project was initiated. Over the past 15 years, the field has moved on dramatically. The potential for personalised treatments targeting the specific genetics of cancer are discussed. The genomes of cancer cells and the genomes of unaffected cells can be compared in order to find out which treatments are likely to work. This is done usingmicroarrays and a simplified version of this process can be found at 06:55 in this clip.
The International Cancer Genome Consortium website has more information on projects that have and are currently being carried out.

At the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Centre, Alan Ashworth, talks about his research into poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors to treat cancer. PARP inhibitors, at low concentrations, allow healthy cells to survive but kill cancer cells which cannot repair their DNA, this has less side effects as only the cancer cells are damaged. They work by inhibiting the PARP enzyme which usually helps to repair damaged DNA (this is shown at 09:51 in this clip).
For more information on PARP inhibitors try this link (Cancer Research UK), this paper. and this paper (subscription required)

If you are interested in Alan Ashworth’s work, follow this link to his blog.

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