Anyone for Gene Editing? (Panorama)

panoramageneediting1Broadcaster: BBC1

Year: 2016

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/421686

In June 2016, BBC current affairs programme Panorama conducted a whistle-stop tour around potential applications of CRISPR, the emerging gene editing technology.

In Medicine’s Big Breakthrough… Editing Your Genes (30 mins), Fergus Walsh talks to a number of key players in the field. These include Jennifer Doudna, credited as one of the co-creators of CRISPR as an editing took, George Church who is looking to humanise pig organs to reduce the likelihood of rejection, and Fyodor Urnov (from Sangamo Biosciences) who is trying to use the technology to tackle diseases such as AIDS and haemophilia. Alison van Eenennaam discusses genetic approaches to making horn-less cattle (which, she argues, is more humane than the current methods for removing existing horns). Walsh also visits biohacking entrepreneur Josiah Zayner, and Kathy Niakan from the Crick Institute who has the UK’s first licence to use CRISPR with human embryos.

The video is good at raising ethical as well as scientific questions. I can see this episode either serving as a very nice introduction to the topic, which students could be asked to watch before a face-to-face teaching session, or alternatively one or more of the vignettes could be used as illustrative clip(s) within a lecture.

A transcript of the programme is available via this link.

transcript from programme

There are a several introductory videos about CRISPR on YouTube. These include one produced by The Royal Society, available via this link. It starts from quite a low level, and so is probably most applicable for a school audience. A second, longer, video produced by Kurzgesagt (German for “in a nutshell”) is available via this link.

Dissected: Getting under your skin

foot dissection2Broadcaster: BBC4

Year: 2016 (originally 2014)

Genre: Documentary

URLs:
Hand (episode 1) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95314
Foot (episode 2) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/91909

Review by Eunice Muruako

In two hour-long episodes, presenter George McGavin (Glasgow University) delves beneath the skin to expose the anatomy of the human hand and foot. The series sheds light on the various functions of the hand and foot by identifying the muscles, tendons and ligaments responsible for movement, and how the human anatomy compares with that of other animals.

Episode 1: Hand The dissection of the donor arm begins in the forearm to expose the muscles which give power to the hand for gripping and the tendons which attach each muscle to the bones in the fingers. The surgeon demonstrates how the tendons motion in the hand by tugging on the tendons to cur the fingers. The structure of the hand can be changed with heavy use – the X-ray of a frequent rock climber shows that the cortical bone (the hard outer layer of the skeleton) is thicker than in a non-climber the tendons and pulleys are also thicker, this allows their hands to maintain a firmer grip. Continue reading

Antibiotics: Britain’s greatest invention?

fleming

Invention or discovery? The case is put that sufficient work needed to be done after Fleming’s observation that the Penicillium mould killed bacteria

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2017

Genre: Factual

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/99491

This clips (8:50) involves former newsreader Angela Rippon putting the case for antibiotics to be the winner of a poll to identify Britain’s Greatest Invention. She has a vested interest in the choice, having been saved from TB as a child. All other inventions being considered (the jet engine, steam engine, fridge, television, mobile phone and concrete) pale into insignificance, she argues, as you cannot benefit from the other inventions suggested if you are dead. This argument may have prevailed, as antibiotics were declared the winner on the night.

In truth this is not a particularly great clip. The opening gambit that “antibiotics literally kill bacteria” is a simplification and the popular myths surrounding the role played by Alexander Fleming are trotted out. There are, however, two features that might make this worth sharing with students.

The first is the debate over whether antibiotics are a discovery or an invention. This is an example of a broader debate about whether natural products are “invented” (this was also at the heart, for example, of the tensions regarding the legitimacy of patenting human genes). Rippon suggests there was sufficient need to technological innovation for antibiotics to be an invention not a discovery. I would have to concur with this view, especially since the fluoroquinolones, my favourite family of “antibiotics”, are in fact entirely man-made. Continue reading

Bacteriophage therapy (BBC News)

marthacBroadcaster: BBC News (and BBC 1)

Year: 2017

Genre: News

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/99430

There has been growing concern about antibiotic resistance over recent years. One alternative is to use bacteriophage (phage), viruses that attack bacteria. The idea is not new, it was actively pursued in the former Soviet Union, but is now being investigated in a rigorous way in western countries.

In this 2.5 minute news story, Martha Clokie from the University of Leicester discusses the potential to use freeze-dried phage in place of antibiotics. The initial trials are due to take place with farm pigs.

For more on this story follow this link.

For other programmes on phage therapy follow this link.

Is interfering with genes ethical? (The Big Questions)

TBQ - Crispr

Front row, left to right: Keith Fox, Jackie Leach Scully, Tony Juniper, David King, Trevor Stammers, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Jonathan Montgomery, Silvia Camporesi, Virginia Bolton, Ruth Stirton and David Wood. Steve Storey is on the extreme right-hand side of the second row.

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2017

Genre: Debate, Factual

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/99294

On 11th June 2017, the final episode of the BBC’s ethical debate series The Big Questions was given over to a full hour’s discussion on the theme “Is interfering with genes ethical?”

As readers may know, this is an important and timely discussion. The emergence of CRISPR gene editing technology over the past three years has, for the first time, made it feasible to alter genes in situ and raises the potential/spectre (delete as applicable) of genuinely designer babies.

An impressive cast of bioethicists had been assembled to lead the debate (see caption of photo, above). A number of interesting and relevant points were raised. Despite the longer allocation of time, however, there was still a frustrating lack of depth on the topic. The focus was allowed to drift far too wide, embracing cryogenic preservation at one end of the spectrum and GM crops at the other. A moving account of the treatment of Steven Storey with his own stem cells was also not really on topic.

A full transcript of the episode is available via this link

transcript from programme

For a list of older episodes of The Big Questions on bioethical themes see this link at our sister site Bioethicsbytes.

Intervention at any cost? The Charlie Gard case

cgardBroadcaster: Channel 4

Genre: News

Length: 3:16 mins

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95288

When an infant has an illness that will, in all probabilities, prove fatal their parents face an agonising choice. Do you follow all possible interventions, or do you reach a point where you recognise that it is in the best interests of the child to withdraw treatment?

This dilemma is brought into stark relief by Charlie Gard who, at the time of writing, is the subject of a High Court case at the Royal Courts of Justice. There are several aspects that make this case particularly tricky, and particularly interesting from a medical ethics standpoint.

Charlie was born in August 2016 with a rare mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. He is deaf and blind, it is tricky to know how much pain he is aware of at present. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital want to move to a regime of palliative care only. A crowdfunding project has raised over a million pounds parents and his parents want to take Charlie to the USA where a doctor is willing to enrol him on a trial of nucleoside bypass therapy, an experimental treatment which has an extremely low probability of alleviating some of his symptoms. He will almost certainly still die.

The case shines a spotlight on different medical culture in the UK and the USA. In the UK doctors tend to take a more cautious approach whereas doctors in America are more willing to try experimental procedures if the patient (or in this case, their parents) want to try and have the money to do so.

For further coverage of the case see: The Guardian and ITV News and a later report from the BBC.

 

A History of the Brain

radioBroadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: Originally broadcast 2011 (repeated periodically)
Genre: Radio, Documentary, History of Science
URLs: See below for each episode

Review by Eunice Muruako
Dr Geoff Bunn (Manchester Metropolitan University) presents a series of ten 15-minute programmes spanning 5000 years of cultural and scientific progress in understanding how the brain works.

Episode 1: A Hole in the Head (https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/90227)
The series begins with an introduction to one of the earliest forms of brain surgery, trepanation (3.00). Trepanation was the process by which a small piece of skull was cut away to relieve pressure believed to be caused by the build-up of fluid. Bunn explains that, even in the ancient world, connections were being made with how particular areas of the brain affected certain functions. We learn that Egyptian physician, Imhotep, understood that injury to one side of the brain could paralyse limbs on the opposite side (10.38).

Episode 2: The Blood of Gladiators
(https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/90228)
Various philosophers had conflicting ideas about the role of the brain and its connection to the location of the soul. Aristotle, for example, considered the heart to have primacy over the brain because it was centrally located and developed first in the embryo (9.09). Whereas Galen agreed with Hippocrates that the body was ruled by the brain (12.37). Ailments which were previously attributed to the gods could instead be understood in terms of natural causes affecting the brain. Continue reading

Phage therapy as an alternative antibiotics

phage3Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2016

Genre: Magazine

Length: 7 mins 17 secs

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/89648

The growing menace of antibiotic resistance has been the subject of increasing press attention in recent years. In this clip from the BBC’s medical magazine show Trust Me I’m A Doctor surgeon Gabriel Weston investigates a potential alternative to antibiotics, the use of bacteriophage in an approach known as Phage Therapy. This apparently novel approach has actually been the subject of extensive research over many decades in the former Soviet Union, especially in the Republic of Georgia. Patients whose diseases are proving resistance to more traditional Western treatments based on antibiotics are now travelling to the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi to try this alternative. Continue reading

Grow your own fillings? (Inside Science)

radioBroadcaster: BBC Radio 4

Year: 2017

Genre: Radio magazine

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/86523

Review by Eunice Muruako

In this 4 minute clip from Inside Science, presenter Adam Rutherford interviews Professor Paul Sharpe from King’s College London about the use of stem cells to regrow damaged dentine. Sharpe and his team have used Tideglusib, a drug originally as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in order to regrow teeth.

Below a thin layer of enamel, there is a thicker layer of another material called dentine. Although enamel cannot be regrown, it is possible to stimulate immature stem cells to become dentine, offering a natural alternative to metal or porcelain fillings.

After the rotten area of the tooth has been drilled out, Sharpe and his team insert a swab impregnated with the drug Tideglusib into the hole. The drug stimulates the Wnt signalling pathway, activating more stem cells. So far the work has been done in mice. In doing so they are taking advantage of the fact that the drug has previously been put through extensive safety trials when being considered as a treatment for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Sharpe hopes this might speed the process to clinical trials for this novel dental application, though even then clinical trials are unlikely to start before 2018 at the earliest.

For further information see this press release from the King’s College website.

Is burnt toast *really* a cancer threat? (News)

toastNew “go for gold” advice from the Food Standards Agency is warning people not to overcook foods such as roast potatoes, chips and toast, as it increases their risk of cancer. The story was widely reported in the press on 23rd January 2017 (e.g. Browned toast and potatoes are ‘potential cancer risk’, say food scientists).

Useful broadcast media coverage includes:

BBC News at One: Is burnt toast a cancer risk?
URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/87866
(2 mins 40)

Channel 4 News: Feeling the burn URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/87907
(3 mins)

Today (BBC Radio 4): Can overdone toast be a cancer risk?
URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/87258
(4 mins 30)

Concern focuses on acrylamide, a chemical that is naturally produced when starchy foods (particularly those rich the amino acid asparagine, such as potatoes and cereals) are cooked at high temperatures (see Mottram et al and Stadler et al for underlying science, which actually dates from 2002). Continue reading