Broadcaster: NHK World
(originally broadcast Aug 2015)
Review by June Adams
This short clip from the English-speaking Japanese channel announces the introduction of a regulatory body for genetic testing in Japan. Establishment of The Council for Protection of Individual Genetic Information (CPIGI) was prompted by a number of concerns. For example, companies offering tests Direct-to Consumer (DTC) genetic testing have not necessarily given sufficient diligence to the security of private genetic information, or to the interpretation of the results. This is especially true for diseases that result from the interaction of multiple gene products as well as the influence of environment on expression of those genes (so called GxE interactions). The clips cites diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease as examples where a correlation with a particular allele at a particular gene may be hard to quantify.
The CPIGI, which launched in Oct 2015 (after the initial broadcast of this episode) is an umbrella group for 25 companies and offers a checklist of over 200 items intended to enhance trust between genetic test providers and clients. This includes the importance of genetic counselling. The launch of CPIGI has been controversial (e.g. see here), especially regarding the lack of consultation.
See this post for details of clips from Newsnight and BBC Breakfast in 2014, regarding the UK launch of DTC genetic service 23andMe.
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Genre: Panel discussion, Fire-side chat
In this special episode of the BBC radio programme All in the mind (28 mins), host Claudia Hammond discusses the basis of memory formation with three leading researchers Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris who have been major players in developing our understanding of memory.
Tim Bliss draws attention to Donald Hebb’s pivotal book The Organization of Behavior and the aphorism “Cells that fire together, wire together”. Graham Collingridge then introduces the notion of long-term potentiation (LTP) as the molecular basis of memory, and particularly the role played by NMDA receptors in learning and AMPA receptors in memory. Errors in the functioning of any of hundreds of proteins can have detrimental impact on memory. Under-activation of LTP can be a contributory factor to schizophrenia. Continue reading
Sprinter Tim Montgomery was the 100 metre world record holder, but was later caught using performance-enhancing drugs and was banned
Broadcaster: Al Jazeera
Review by Ella Yabsley
In this Al Jazeera Investigates documentary, former UK hurdler Liam Collins embarks on an undercover investigation seeking to expose ‘the dark side’ of professional sports; blood doping and the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) by professional athletes. This 16-minute clip splices together key sections of the documentary (The full programme can be seen on YouTube as well as on Box of Broadcasts).
“I can take a guy with average genetics and I can make him a world champion. I can with drugs. Oh absolutely.”
The documentary stirred controversy, primarily for featuring accusations regarding several NFL footballers, notably Peyton Manning, who went on to steer his Denver Broncos team to success at Superbowl 50 before announcing his retirement. More importantly, the documentary highlights loopholes in the drug testing regimes of several popular sports. Athletes play a ‘cat and mouse game’ with the testing system; timely drug administration combined with an awareness of testing procedures results in athletes coming up negative in tests. Continue reading
Increasing global population and food demands drive the discovery for new food sources and imminent dietary change
Broadcaster: BBC TWO
Review by Ella Yabsley
This 4.5-minute clip from BBC Two’s Food & Drink could serve as a useful discussion-starter when considering the ethics of global meat consumption. The clip begins with the introduction of a new type of food source, cultured beef or in vitro meat (IVM). A team from Maastricht University (Holland) claim that IVM was produced for numerous reasons: IVM is more sustainable compared to traditional animal farming practices; it could solve the current (and future) food crisis; and it could also help to combat climate change. Regardless of your ethical standpoint, this clip highlights some of the ethical, economic and health-related tensions that the ‘Western World’ is facing with regards to animal agriculture. Continue reading
COPD is linked to smoking
Broadcaster: Sky News
Review by Ella Yabsley
The 2.5 minute clip from Sky News breakfast programme Sunrise is a good scene-setter, providing examples of how chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects the physical stamina of individuals. Broadcast at the end of December, it is timed to influence people considering giving up smoking as a new year’s resolution. The clip includes coverage of Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas climbing the stairs whilst wearing a restrictive mask that mimics the effects of COPD.
Each year, around 25,000 people in the UK die from COPD. COPD is an umbrella term for emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other chronic obstructive airways diseases that affect the respiratory system (principally, the lungs). The report highlights smoking as a major risk factor for COPD development; increases in smoking directly correlates with more severe COPD symptoms. In addition to 25,000 people per annum dying from COPD, it is estimated that a further 3 million people in the UK are living with the condition.
“To start with it’s often just a smoker’s cough with some phlegm at the back of the throat. People write it off and say “oh, that’s normal”; but it inexorably goes downhill so that they get so bad that they’re short of breath all the time” – Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England
For an up to date review on early COPD and risk factors please see this article published by The Lancet.
The specialist “embryo flushing” team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Documentary, Magazine
A seven-minute clip from the popular BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile, looking at “embryo flushing” a modern IVF-based method that is replacing traditional selective breeding on many farms.
Embryos are removed from a pedigree cow using a saline flush and she is later fertilised by a bull in the traditional manner. The quality of the harvested embryos can be examined at the on-farm laboratory and the best placed into other non-pedigree cows. In this way it becomes possible for the cow with desirable characteristics to be the biological mother of perhaps six calves at one time. As the technique gains in popularity, the specialist can transfer as many as 1500 embryos in a year.
Other applications of this approach include being able to breed using the best genetic stock from around the world, and allowing for deep freezing of embryos as a safeguard against some catastrophic outbreak. The approach was recently used to re-introduce 100 long-horn cattle into Australia.
The first film in the re-launched franchise is rich in ethical dilemmas
Broadcaster: Film 4
Year: 2014 (cinema release 2011)
Genre: Film, Fiction, Science Fiction
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the first of the re-launched film series (followed by the vastly inferior Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). The film is a veritable feast of bioethics issues. To find out more please take a visit to our sister site Bioethicsbytes (follow this link). The IMDb page for the film can be found via this link.
More details about the potential uses of this film for teaching can be found at Bioethicsbytes
Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)
This 8.5 minute clip is taken from Horizon: The Secret Life of Dogs and gives an overview of a long-term breeding experiment of Silver foxes in Siberia. The clip demonstrates some of the extraordinary changes that simple selective breeding (in this case for non-aggression) can make over a few generations and as such provides a model of how domestication may have taken place. It also highlights some of the side effects of this breeding programme (e.g. colour changes) which show remarkable similarity to some domestic dog characteristics.
As well as natural section I also teach artificial selection. There are a number of discussion points that can potentially come out of the clip. Firstly the power of simple selective breeding and that not all changes are due to GM! Secondly it illustrates that these genes are already in the population. As some foetuses were swapped reference can also be made to the nature v nurture argument. I think it also could be used to in ethical discussions.
WARNING: There is a word of caution, however, as the foxes are kept in conditions people may find distressing.
The programme gives a fascinating insight into the different dilemmas facing children with severe immunological problems
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Genre: Reality TV, Documentary, Fly on the wall
Review by: Prof John Bryant (University of Exeter)
“In this area of medicine, nothing is risk-free
If I were to say what mistakes we had made over the years, it would always be that we have gone too far. We should have stopped earlier. We have added to the suffering of this child and family. But …”
Great Ormond Street is the flagship London hospital for paediatrics. It has been the focus for a long-term “fly on the wall” series. In this moving and sometimes upsetting episode Fix My Genes (Season 3, episode 1, 1 hour duration) we are introduced to three children who were born with inherited conditions that affect their immune systems. In all three, the conditions are, to different extents, life-limiting.
Sibling donation: Herb is a lively five-year-old who needs a bone marrow transplant due to a rare genetic disorder, NEMO. Without it, he is ‘unlikely to reach his second decade.’ His six-year-old brother Rufus is a perfect match and their parents give consent for Rufus to donate bone marrow to save his brother. They are warned that with Herb’s condition there is a 10% chance of mortality. In this instance everything goes well and we see the happy outcome of the procedure, albeit that Herb was in hospital for several weeks before being allowed to go home. I note that we also meet Herb’s sister Lily, who, rather strangely, has started to show symptoms at the age of ten. She may at some time in the future need a transplant but certainly not for the present. Finding a matched donor would be an issue here. Continue reading
Formal and informal research into the effects of electrical stimuli on brain function are being conducted
Broadcaster: Sky News
This is a short package (4 mins) from the Sky News breakfast show Sunrise. A reporter visits Andrew Vladimirov, described as part of a growing British community of brain hackers. Vladimirov uses a variety of techniques in an attempt to stimulate his brain function. As he points, the methods are used as part of various therapeutic programmes; he is looking to use the same approaches to achieve personal enhancement.
A second interview is conducted with Camilla Nord from UCL. She carries out research into transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) as a potential treatment for depression. Although she believes there may be some truth to the claims regarding brain hacking, she does caution against “playing with electricity at home”. Neither commercial nor home-made kits are currently subject to any UK regulation.