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
Broadcaster: BBC One
Review by Ella Yabsley
A study published on the Lancet Oncology website in January 2016 reported that proton beam therapy was as effective as traditional photon radiotherapy for the treatment of paediatric medulloblastoma (a childhood brain cancer). The paper also suggests proton radiotherapy reduces toxicity towards normal tissues (compared to photon radiotherapy) and could improve long-term health outcomes for children with malignant brain cancer. At the present time, the NHS are paying for eligible patients to receive proton treatment abroad. From 2019, two new NHS proton beam therapy facilities will be opened in London and Manchester (more by private institutions).
This video file (11 mins), a combination of several shorter pieces from Breakfast News, gives background to the development including an interview with a paediatric oncologist who explains what the study does, and does not, show. It is a (relatively) large study but the observations appear not to be a surprise to those working in the field; the interest may be linked to the controversy surrounding the Ashya King case. Continue reading
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).