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.
Broadcaster: 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 (https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/90227)
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
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.”
Genre: Humour, Magazine
Review by June Adams and Eunice Muruako
Dr Xand van Tulleken hosts this satirical show (30 mins) taking a look back at some health news from 2016. He elaborates on potentially misleading news headlines and explains the research behind them. Tulleken is keen to push the message that the unsubstantiated claims of pseudo-science detract from the credibility of real science that could actually help people. The humorously presented topics range from scaremongering health claims and celebrity endorsed miracle cures, to squat toilets and cigarette packaging; he even uses cheese as a visual aid to illustrate the factors behind the junior doctors’ strikes.
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
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.