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.
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.
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Genre: Radio magazine
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.
URLs: (full episode) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0D9D7D7F
Clip 1 (6:43): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23517
Clip2 (6:16): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23518
The BBC’s rural affairs programme Countryfile (first broadcast on 9th October 2016) looked at ongoing issues with TB infection cattle populations. The topic was covered in two sections. The first focuses on the current tests for TB infection. The second looks more closely at the science being used to develop new tests and better vaccines against TB. 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
In this three minute clip, Fergus Walsh reports on a trial being conducted at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (London). The research, led by Prof Mark Peakman, is using a combination of protein fragments (MultiPepT1De) to try and trigger a “protective” immune response, rather than the inappropriate antibody production against islet cells that underlies Type 1 diabetes.
This link includes a video by Prof Peakman introducing the biochemistry of Type I diabetes and the basis of their research (5 mins). See also this article by Peakman on the principles behind the new approach.
The same news item is currently also available on the BBC news website.
Broadcaster: BBC News
Review by Emma Sterling
“For people from an ethnic minority background like me and my family, finding yourself in a situation where you need an organ transplant can sometimes feel like a death sentence.”
This short documentary (26 minutes) investigates the lack of Black, Asian, Minority ethnic group (BAME) organ donors and explores the influence this shortage has on the transplant black market overseas. The programme follows BBC news presenter Seb Choudhury as he donates a kidney to his mother Sakina, who had been given 3 years to live without a transplant (whereas the waiting list without his intervention might have been up to 10 years). Continue reading
In a clinical setting; MRI Imaging is routinely used to identify tumour locations in preparation for treatments like microwave ablation (MWA) or high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
Broadcaster: Channel 4
Review by Ella Yabsley
The Curing Cancer documentary outlines in simple terms how cancer occurs. I do not recommend watching the entire hour-long episode from the Cutting Edge series as it only briefly covers certain areas and contains anecdotal sections which are irrelevant for educational purposes. This 14 minute clip (spliced together from shorter segments in the programme) could serve as a brief introduction to cancer cell biology.
If you already have a more advanced knowledge of cancer biology then I recommend skipping to the four specific cases below (rather than watching the longer clip). Each case describes and demonstrates a different cancer treatment in action; Ibrutinib, high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and microwave ablation (MWA). Case 2 describes the diagnosis techniques prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing and biopsy extraction.
Watching the cases below could be valuable if you are taking a cancer biology module and want to demonstrate knowledge of emerging therapies. Additionally, please take a look at this post which highlights a recent BBC News item on immunotherapy techniques used for treating melanoma (skin cancer).
The programme includes an engaging animated history of our understanding of inheritance
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Genre: Magazine show
Review by Amy Evans
In 2012 well-known comedian (and theoretical physics graduate) Dara Ó Briain launched his eponymous Science Club. This first episode of season 1 focuses on reproduction and inheritance, including the importance of bicycles to human development. Although the show’s approach is light-hearted and humorous, there is actually a lot of information given about genetics and key speakers, such as leading geneticist Steve Jones, are involved so that the information given is up to date (at the time of showing). The show is aimed at viewers who have a relatively basic initial knowledge, but elements of it might be good to watch as a re-cap when starting new modules.
A brief history of genetics (2:46, starting at 02:23, see this clip) a nice animation, summarising our understanding of inheritance from Aristotle via van Leeuwenhoek, Bakewell, Mendel and Morgan and ending with elucidation of the double helix by Watson and Crick.
Does sex work? An interview with Professor Steve Jones. Ó Briain and Jones discuss the inefficiencies of sexual reproduction, especially from the female perspective. Jones argues that invention of the bicycle is the most important step in human evolution, because it allowed intermingling of the gene pools with residents of the next village. Now, across the world, we are becoming much less isolated genetically. After a consideration of the history of the bicycle, they return to discussing the importance of genetic diversity. Generally speaking the marital distance, that is the geographical distance between the birthplace of partners relative to the distance between the birthplaces of their respective parents, gets greater generation by generation. Jones explains that genetic health may improve as we are less likely to encounter recessive mutations common within a subpopulation (for example, if you want to avoid having a child with cystic fibrosis breed with someone from Nigeria). Continue reading
“Society is going to have to make a judgement on what value it puts on extending the lives of cancer patients against all the other demands on the NHS”
Broadcaster: BBC 1
On 1st June 2015, there was quite a large amount of coverage of a recent clinical trial reported to have had dramatic effects on the survival rates of patients with melanoma (a form of skin cancer). The reason this particular clip (4:45) stands out as useful for teaching is the combination of a clear explanation of what the new cancer immunotherapy drugs are doing, but also the difficult decisions to be made in the light of a growing number of exciting but expensive new drugs for cancer. What price can a health service afford to pay to extend one person’s life when, with a finite budget, buying their medicine means that someone elsewhere in the system will miss out on their treatment instead?
For more on this story see this link (BBC website).
The new test looks for expression of a particular protein in the blood
Broadcaster: Sky News
Ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate because symptoms are often vague, allowing the disease to develop before it is properly diagnosed. This 2.4 minute clip from is from Sky News (though the same story was widely covered on other outlets on the same day). The piece reports findings from a new study in which a blood test looks for levels of a certain biomarker, a protein called CA125. The crucial thing in this study, which may pave the way for establishment of a screening programme, was the benefit of annual checks on the level of CA125 in a patient’s blood rather than a one-off check. It seems that absolute levels of the protein can be quite variable between different women, but a change in the level is a much more significant indicator of underlying developments. The approach of screening blood for cancer-related biomarkers is an emerging area in cancer treatment and might allow for screening for other variants too, such as prostate cancer.