Invention or discovery? The case is put that sufficient work needed to be done after Fleming’s observation that the Penicillium mould killed bacteria
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
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
Swaziland has declared the current TB epidemic a national emergency
Broadcaster: BBC 4
Reviewed by Emma Sterling
“It’s very difficult to cure XDR because we’re just giving what we have on the table. The reality of XDR is that it’s almost incurable.”
(WARNING: Distressing content): BBC 4’s long-format (90 minute) documentary TB: Return of the Plague, reports on the fight against tuberculosis (TB) in Swaziland, the country with the highest rate of infection in the world. Continue reading
“Eat your Christmas dinner and don’t worry”
Broadcaster: BBC News
Review by Emma Sterling
Bacteria resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic colistin have been found in the UK. Public Health England says the threat to human health is low. Clive Myrie speaks to health correspondent James Gallagher in this 2 minute clip.
The colistin-resistant bacteria were first reported on a farm in China in November 2015 and have since been found in Africa and other parts of Europe. Chinese researchers have found the mcr-1 gene that is responsible for this resistance.
Gallagher stresses that this does not mean these bacteria are unbeatable or that a bacterial apocalypse is nigh (we hope his “Eat your Christmas dinner and don’t worry” does not become the antibacterial version of Michael Fish’s famous promise that a hurricane was not on the way). Those that are resistant to colistin are currently susceptible to other antibiotics, but the discovery raises the spectre of an entirely resistant infection. If this was to occur then routine surgery and cancer therapies might be rendered unsafe.
For more on the story see the BBC News website, and for more scientific detail this article from Nature.
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).
“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).
From time to time we will use BiologyOnTheBox to aggregate coverage on the same story from a number of different broadcast sources. This is one such post.
In 2014, David Cameron established a Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, under the chairmanship of economist Jim O’Neill (the man previously credited with coining the acronym BRIC to group together the emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India and China). In December 2014 The review published their first report Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations followed in February 2015 with their second, Tackling a Global Health Crisis: Initial steps.
The press coverage described below comes from 14th May 2015, the day on which the Review published their most important report to date, Securing New Drugs for Future Generations: The pipeline of antibiotics. Publication of the report garnered widespread coverage, including the news items documented here. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but reflects the kinds of issues raised across the day (programmes are listed here in chronological order).
This file is actually a splice of two sections from the programme; a prefilmed package in which Fergus Walsh (1:50) gives background to the situation and includes an interview a woman who is immunocompromised following transplant surgery and therefore reliant on effective antimicrobials. The second part is one of the many interviews conducted with Jim O’Neill over the course of the day. He emphasises that this is a global problem, needing a global solution and that China may play a crucial role in their forthcoming role as chair of the G20. I was struck by his use of the notion of “enlightened self-interest” as a motivator for the pharma industry to become re-engaged in antimicrobial production. Continue reading
Research led by Roy Kishony uses a “morbidostat” to deliberately develop antibiotic resistant bacteria
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Josh Sutton
Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is currently one of the largest problems facing modern medicine. The rise in cases of multiple drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are only the best-known examples of a wider issue. In this Horizon documentary from 2012, the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance is covered, as well as reflections on the new treatments and drugs that scientists are developing to combat the growing resistance threat.
The importance of antibiotic resistance is immediately highlighted in the programme, with the story of a soldier put into a critical condition after his legs were blown off. His perilous state was actually due to an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria he went on to develop: MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. This infection could only be treated with antibiotics of last resort, which were toxic to both the bacteria and the soldier himself. Continue reading
Edward Jenner made a crucial breakthrough in developing vaccination, though his experiment was unethical by modern standards
Broadcaster: BBC 1
The role of Edward Jenner in developing vaccination has been told many times on TV. This 6.5 minute clip from a Countryfile “Heroes of farming” special visits Jenner’s house in Gloucestershire to tell the famous story. Drawing on the wisdom of local dairymaids, Jenner took pustules from people infected with cowpox and deliberately introduced material from the pustules into local children. This work would not get through an ethical review today!
Anita Rana then brings the story of vaccination up to date by visiting the Pirbright Institute, where a new vaccine against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is being developed. A vaccine against FMD already exists, but the production involves use of the live virus, with inherent risks. The new vaccine retains the protective element without the infective.
Hayley Francies from the Sanger explains to Channel 4 reporter Tom Clark how the organoids are a more realistic tool for cancer research than typical monolayer cells
Broadcaster: Channel 4
This 3.2 minute clip from Channel 4 looks at the use of organoids. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have, for the first time, grown tumours from 20 different colon cancer patients using matrigel to encourage the cells to form 3D “miniorgans” rather than growing in a monolayer as is more typical for cultured cells. Each organoid is different, reflecting the genetic errors in the donor, effectively a copy of the individual patients cancer grown in the lab. As a result a collection of tissues suitable for screening of existing and new drugs have been generated which may help both to select the most suitable drug for a given patient but also to improve our understanding of the cancers.