Gene therapy – Horizon “Trial and Error”

October 18, 2006

The excitement about gene therapy received a serious blow in September 1999 with the death of Jesse Gelsinger.  At the time 18 year old Jesse was a participant in a clinical trial for gene therapy to overcome a genetic condition Ornithine Transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency.  This documentary “Trial and Error” from the BBC’s flagship Horizon series tells the story of that trial and what went wrong.  Although the tone is sometimes unduly sensationalist, it is an excellent introduction to gene therapy.  The story is complicated by serious flaws in the conduct of the clinical trial, which can also make this a good vehicle for discussing appropriate procedures in biomedical research.  

This episode is from the 2003 season of Horizon.  It is frequently repeated on digital TV, particularly the UKTV Documentary channel.  It is also available as an off-air recording from the BUFVC (TRILT identifier 001D70CE).  Watching the whole episode is time well spent.  However, a four and a half minute clip starting at 4:40 with the voiceover “A medical revolution had begun…” and continuing through interviews with French Anderson and Dusty Miller explains the principles of using viral vectors for delivering genes into cells.  A transcipt of the programme is available on the BBC website.

Animal Experimentation – Every Breath

October 4, 2006

Every Breath is an engaging production by the Y Touring theatre group which has recently completed a UK tour (but has received funding for a further run in Spring 2007).  The play focuses on the lives of Sonny, an asthmatic who has growing concerns about animal welfare and has recently stopped taking his medication on grounds of conscience, and his sister Anita, whose work for her PhD involves research using mice.  They are joined in the story by their widowed mother Lina and her new boyfriend Raz, who is considering becoming a Buddhist.

The play is an excellent vehicle for raising the issues surrounding experiments using animals, without offering trite solutions.  A live performance includes a debate involving the audience and the cast, who remain in their characters throughout.

Even if you cannot organise a performance, the script by Judith Johnson is available from Oberon books (ISBN 1-84002-668-5).  It includes a thorough collection of teachers’ resources on the use of animals in medical research.  Apparently the play may also be available in other formats in the future.   To find out more details about securing a performance of Every Breath near you contact