Biomarkers for autism diagnosis?

autismBroadcaster: BBC1

Year: 2018

Genre: Studio interview

Duration: 6 minutes


A six minute interview on BBC Breakfast (19th February 2018) was prompted by the publication of a research article which claims to have identified specific combinations of molecular markers which can speed up the clinical diagnosis of autism. The conversation is an interesting insight into the potential of new techniques for rapid diagnosis of diseases, about experimental design and about experts in different disciplines working together.

Breakfast presenters Dan Walker and Louise Minchin are joined by Dr Naila Rabbani from the University of Warwick, who headed up the research, and Dr James Cusack, Director of Science at Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity.  Continue reading


What constitutes “the inner me”? (Horizon)

owen1Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2009

Genre: Documentary


Fascinating insights have emerged from recent studies of the brain. This episode of Horizon, first transmitted in 2009, is quite old now. However many of the insights remain highly pertinent and the work of Adrian Owen described in the programme continues to amaze (see also his new book Into The Grey Zone).

I actually wrote about this programme previously over at our sister site Bioethicsbytes, so rather than reiterate the key points here, please follow this link to original post.


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 (
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
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

Parkinson’s: The Funny Side

Broadcaster: BBC1

Year: 2017parkinsons-the-funny-side

Genre: Documentary


Review by June Adams

In 2011, comedy writer Paul Mayhew-Archer (whose work includes The Vicar of Dibley) became one of about 127,000 people in the UK diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. At that time, he was told to expect “five good years”. Since then laughter, chocolate, medication and exercise classes run for Parkinson’s patients by the English National Ballet have helped keep his spirits up and his symptoms relatively in check. However with those five good years now passed, Paul begins to ask what the coming years may hold for him and his condition.

As you can imagine from the title, this is not a serious scientific documentary – but there are short sections that might prove useful to demonstrate different forms of intervention being used to understand more about Parkinson’s, to treat the symptoms and/or to find a potential cure. With the help of various Departments of Oxford University, Paul investigates:

  • Tests for Parkinson’s, including development of a phone app that help doctors with an early diagnosis of the disease (this clip, 1.47 mins)
  • Deep brain stimulation for controlling tremors (this clip, 3.30 mins), and
  • News of a possible cure involving stem cells (this clip, 1.54 mins).

Along the way, Paul meets other people with Parkinson’s and discovers how everyone’s experience of the disease is different; each has a unique combination of symptoms, some of which are much more troubling than others. As he summarises in closing:

A philosopher once said, I think it was Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” And Parkinson’s is like a particularly rubbish sort of box of chocolates. Every symptom, every chocolate is particularly disgusting. But some are more disgusting than others. And let’s hope, as I come to the end of my five good years, that I won’t end up with the orange cream.

How are memories formed? (All in the mind)

radioBroadcaster: BBC Radio 4

Year: 2016

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

Circadian rhythms (In Our Time)

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4                                            radio

Year: 2015

Genre: Discussion


Review by Emma Sterling

“Circadian rhythms are a biological version of a clock inside humans and all other animals, plants and quite possibly in almost every living cell…These rhythms are a response to the most predictable condition of life on earth, that is, dark at night and bright during the day.”

“Circadian rhythms are one of the best examples of how genes relate to behaviour.”

In this episode of his series In Our Time (41 minutes), Melvyn Bragg talks with Professors Russell Foster, Debra Skene and Steve Jones about circadian rhythms, what they are and how they affect behaviour in humans and other organisms.

The programme includes a brief explanation about the subcellular process involved in circadian rhythms. In humans this takes place in what is described as the ‘master pacemaker’, formally known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). This is a group of 50,000 cells located in the hypothalamus that are essential for producing the rhythm. Approximately 12-14 genes and their protein products are involved in the molecular feedback loop with an oscillation of approximately 24 hrs. In some individuals these oscillations are slightly longer, in others slightly less. These differences can affect whether that person is a morning or evening person. Other factors that can affect these oscillations include polymorphisms in the genes that control this process, and external factors such as food, drink and caffeine but none of the aforementioned are as important as light. Continue reading

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The first film in the re-launched franchise is rich in ethical dilemmas

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

More details about the potential uses of this film for teaching can be found at Bioethicsbytes

The £10 Million Challenge (Horizon)

Following a public vote, the money was eventually awarded to the battle against antibiotic resistance

Following a public vote, the money was eventually awarded to the battle against antibiotic resistance

Broadcaster: BBC 2

Year: 2014

Genre: Documentary


Review by Lorna McCall

Although 2014 may have been the first time many people had heard of it, the Longitude Prize is not new. In fact it was the combination of the 300th anniversary of the prize and the 50th anniversary of the Horizon TV programme that led to this highly publicised competition to find a worthy winner of £10 million pounds to make a significant impact in tackling one of six key problems: antibiotic resistance, paralysis, malnutrition, carbon emission from jet engines, inadequate supply of fresh water and living with dementia.

This summary focuses on the four most biologically-related topics. Each section is available as a specific clip (click on subheadings below for links).

Antibiotics (7.5 minute segment, starting at 05:28)

The first area of research discussed in the programme relates to appropriate use of antibiotics (see this link for clip). The rise of antibiotic resistance over the years means that 5000 patients in the UK already die every year due to treatment being ineffective. It is important to have antibiotics in order to prevent small infections becoming deadly; or to prevent infection in the first instance for example during routine surgeries. Continue reading