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.”
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
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.
troponin concentration in the blood can give an indication of whether someone is having a genuine heart attack
A million people a year visit Accident and Emergency departments in the UK with concerns that they are having a heart attack. A simple blood test monitoring the levels of troponin has been available for a while, but a paper published in leading medical journal the Lancet (open access) described a quicker procedure with greater sensitivity to low concentrations of the protein. This should make it easier to confirm if someone has genuine damage to their heart or is simply experiencing chest pain.
This 2-minute BBC News clip summarises the story. It could be used in a lecture on muscle activity, e.g. to consider why troponin is released into the blood.
Alternative coverage of the same story includes a 4 minute section from BBC Breakfast or 3 minutes from Channel 5 News.
Test rules out heart attacks in two-thirds suffering chest pains (Guardian)
Heart attack test ‘cuts hospital stays’ (BBC)
Plus an earlier article from NICE about various troponin-based assays.
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.
This programme focused on the emerging potential for 3D printing of organic material
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Genre: Radio, Documentary
Howard Stableford anchors this 30 minute documentary on the growing applications of 3D printing to bioscience.
As long ago as 2005, a bald eagle had a damaged beak repaired using 3D printing. Stableford talks to a team who are working on a 3D printed seawall and reef structures, that has nooks and crannies suitable for various organisms to live, in a way that is not possible with more typical engineered materials. It is like producing a city for the anticipated biolife likely to live in that area. The reefs have a natural appearance and replacing existing areas lost in previous developments. It may be possible to adapt existing processes to work with living tissue.
Bio-printing involves material that incorporate “viable living cells”. This is not about printing tissue directly, but is more an extension of existing tissue engineering approaches, in which cells are persuaded to develop into tissues. A temporary scaffold is used to direct the required shape. Currently a “soup” of cell suspension is introduced into a scaffold. 3D Bio-printing would incorporate cells into a scaffold in new orientations, rather than actually printing a tissue. The question is posed whether parallel advances in 3D printing and DNA manipulation techniques, might allow us to reach a point where we could print an organism.
Of course this would be far from trivial. If you knew the entire internal 3D layout of an organism you might be able to print this. This is unlikely. Making an egg instead, provided with the relevant genetic information and nutrients would be more feasible but even this is a long way off.
The strength of this programme is the enthusiasm for those willing to push boundaries, to see what is possible with these emerging technologies. However, although the programme overall was thought-provoking episode, floating possibilities, there was little solid content. In that sense it was rather reminiscent of an old episode of Tomorrow’s World, which – of course – Stableford also used to present.
In keeping with his usual style, Mosley uses himself as the subject of the experiments in this programme
Broadcaster: BBC Four
Review by Will Channell
Michael Mosley’s latest documentary covers blood and the roles of the human circulation system. By performing six different experiments on samples of his own blood he is able to show the wide variety of biological functions fulfilled by the blood and demonstrate their medical relevance.
This programme is great for a basic description of physiology and immunology; discussing ideas from oxygen uptake to the immune response. As he often does, Michael Mosley uses his own body to perform these experiments, making black pudding out of his own blood and calculating the volume of oxygen carried by his blood during exercise (his vO2). The latter is shown in this clip and would be of particular use to first year undergraduates studying a physiology module; it might also be used within physiology practical classes to introduce experiments.
The strengths of this programme relate strongly to the presenter. The reason Michael Mosley has become the BBC’s ‘go-to’ man for medical documentaries is because he is able to explain complex ideas in a very simple manner. A qualified doctor himself, he presents the show in an engaging manner, guiding the viewer slowly through things, with clever and interesting examples. For instance in this show he uses white water kayaking as a way to demonstrate a haematological response to shock; this enables the viewer to gain information without getting tied down in lengthy descriptions or difficult diagrams.
In contrast the weakness of The Wonderful World of Blood is the fact that, although easy to watch, it is only an hour long, and therefore does not delve to deeply into the study of human blood. Consequently it is difficult to see this show being used for anything more complex than an introduction to blood physiology.
Overall though this programme offers a fascinating look into the human circulatory system that could be watched by anyone with an interest in the area. However anyone looking to study blood in more detail will need an additional resource.
Philipp Scherer demonstrates a tenth of the body fat we would find in a lean person
Broadcaster: BBC4 (originally BBC2)
Year: 2015 (originally January 2009)
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/284706 *
Review by Lorna McCall
This episode of the documentary series Horizon follows an experiment conducted by Swedish scientist Fredrik Nystrom. In contrast to most studies on obesity, which focus on the laready-overweight, Nystrom takes a novel approach by studying individuals who struggle to put on weight. This programme delves into many different factors the body employs to control our body weight. The following times indicate the start of relevant sections (which are also provided as clips): Continue reading
This is a useful teaching tool, precisely because it demonstrates a poorly designed experiment
Genre: Popular Science, Edutainment
The maverick series Brainiac: Science abuse originally ran on Sky One between 2003 and 2008. This clip (2.5 mins) within Box of Broadcasts is taken from a 2014 repeat shown on Challenge.
Not famed for the rigour of their research methodology, it might seem an odd choice to use a clip from this series for University-level teaching. It is in fact the poor design of the chosen experiment that proves useful (see below).
In the clip, the Brainiacs are investigating the question “Can you Smell Fear?” To do so they get an unfortunate female team member to sniff the armpits of three men – one has been relaxing, one has been running and the third (alleged to have a fear of heights) has been on a high crane platform.
Educational use of this clip: I have used this clip in a first year module looking at experimental design. The students are told before watching the video to keep an eye out for features of the experiment that have been conducted well and those that are less than ideal. This then leads into reflection on how they might investigate the same question (can you smell fear?) in a better way. Finally we talk through the approach that was used in a paper examining the same issue, from the journal PLoS ONE, published in 2009. This exercise has been written up in the Journal of Biological Education.