Cognitive enhancement: less sleep = more done?

February 25, 2009

In Make me… stay awake, the final part of an engaging series of three documentaries (following Make me… smart and Make me… live forever), Michael Mosley investigates the effects of sleep deprivation and ways in which these symptoms may be alleviated. As he puts it in the introduction to the film, he wants to know if there are ways of “conquering… my need and my urge for sleep” (01:40).

Several sections of the programme brought bioethical themes into sharp focus – including the use of model organisms in research (17:53-20:47) and the use of drugs to stay awake longer (26:42- end).

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Blood & Guts – A History of Surgery: Spare Parts

February 11, 2009

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vlcsnap-146838Blood & Guts – A History of Surgery: Spare Parts is the third part of the BBC Four documentary series about the “brutal, bloody and dangerous history of surgery” focusing on the development of transplant surgery. The documentary primarily gives a graphic account of the history of transplant surgery, in particular focusing on the work of Alexis Carrel (00:04:24 – 00:22:47),  Joseph E. Murray (00:22:47 – 00:45:32) and Sir Roy Calne (00:36:40 – 00:45:32). However both at the beginning (Start – 00:04:24) and the end of the programme (00:45:32 – End) Michael Mosley (Also seen in BBC’s documentary series Medical Mavericks) discusses some of the ethical concerns that may arise from transplant surgery. Mosley meets with two patients who have both had a hand transplant, however only one of the patients is able to keep his new hand as it illustrates the success and failure of the radical surgery.

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Michael Mosley (00:02:00 - 00:04:24): "I'm really intrigued by David (patient because to me this is something more than just incredible surgery. The whole idea of living with a dead man's hand is one I find fascinating but also disturbing. A lot of people I've talked to are really freaked by the idea of having something like an arm transplant, its also true frankly of all the buts of the body that show like; noses, eyes, and faces probably the freakiest of them all. No other form of surgery impacts on our sense of self in quite the way transplants do. There is something profoundly strange about swoping body parts, melding your flesh with others. And these days there seems to be no limits."

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Blood and Guts – Bleeding Hearts

December 10, 2008

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Michael Mosley: “The heart possesses a mystique, a romance that sets it a part from any other organs. This difference helped make heart surgery an extremely dangerous procedure. Not just for the patient but also for any surgeon prepared to operate on it.”

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Drug Trials – The Dark Side

August 6, 2008
BBC Reporter Paul Kenyon - speaking to patients outside an Indian hospital

BBC Reporter Paul Kenyon – speaking to patients outside an Indian hospital

A documentary in BBC2’s This World strand, Drug Trials: The Dark Side investigated the murky world of clinical trials carried our in the developing world. Reporter Paul Kenyon travels to India in an attempt to uncover the actions of some of the world’s biggest drug companies. Through a series of interviews with both doctors and patients, it reveals some discrepancies with regards to clinical trial protocol. This raises five main ethical issues:

  • Patient recruitment onto drug trials
  • Informed consent
  • The trust between a doctor and their patient
  • The methodology implemented during a drug trial
  • The cost and accessibility of drugs in the developing world

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Epigenetics – The ghost in your genes

June 30, 2008

 
Epigenetics – Turning genes on and off  

The BBC Horizon documentary The ghost in your genes, successfully explains a particularly complex field of science. Genetic inheritance has historically been thought of as involving the transmission of DNA from one generation to the next affected by occasional mutations in the DNA itself (00:04:37 – 00:05:50). “Up to now, inheritance is just the genes, the DNA sequence. I suspect that we’re going to be able to demonstrate that inheritance is more than that”, explains Professor Marcus Pembrey from the Institute of Child Health, UCL. A few scientists had hypothesised that the conventional genetic model and mode of inheritance was too simplistic to explain the complexity of human beings. The revelation that the human genome likely contains only about 30,000 genes (00:08:54 – 00:11:33), coupled with increasing experimental evidence, now leads scientists to believe that other factors allow genes to be switched on and off in response to environmental stimuli. The consequences of which may affect subsequent generations.

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Exploiting Genetic Knowledge – Visions of the Future (2)

January 11, 2008

The Biotech Revolution, the second episode of the BBC4 Visions of the Future series, continues to describe ways in which humanity is making a “historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery”. Presenter Michio Kaku suggests that unlocking the basic code of life will allow us to “predetermine the destiny of life itself” and to manipulate it at the most fundamental level (Start-00:02:00).

The programme begins with Kaku having his “medical future rather than history” diagnosed via a series of genetic tests for complex diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. He describes this as an “owner’s manual” which will enable him to have greater control of his health, and to allow others to perhaps prolong their life by decades (00:02:20-00:06:20 and 00:20:05-00:23: 20). As a scientist, he is eager to discover what secrets his genome may contain however, as a person, he says “wait a minute, this could be a Pandora’s Box… I’m looking at a side of me I have never seen before, a side that has potential medical problems lurking there”.

Some of the issues raised here mirror those found in the ITV1 broadcast The Killer in Me, which illustrated particularly well the anguish associated with having such tests and the way actions could be taken in light of the results. In this programme, in contrast, there is greater emphasis placed on the potential impact on relatives and wider society that may result from taking the tests. “We really want to respect your privacy and the privacy of your relatives” the physician emphasises to Kaku.  Much of the future of this testing, if not the present, relies upon “the last great discovery of the 21st century, the Human Genome Project”.  Kaku believes that this event holds such significance that we will look at the history of medicine in two eras, “before genome and after genome”. “Having unravelled the fundamental code of our biology the stage is set for us to manipulate it” he adds (00:06:25-00:09:20). Read the rest of this entry »


The vivisection debate: Animals (More4)

October 16, 2007

Part of a season of programmes about aspects of animal use in research, this drama/documentary was first broadcast in December 2005. In the fictional story we are introduced to a research scientist involved in animal testing and to an animal rights activist intent on stop him.  The narrative develops from about 1997, when a TV documentary exposed genuine mistreatment of some animals at Britain’s largest animal research facility, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), see 00:16:07 – 00:17:31. Throughout the programme, Animals examines real life actions taken by animal rights activists and incorporates them in the plot of the story. A series of interviews with people who were directly involved in these events is also interspersed, and provides interesting insights into their personal experiences. Read the rest of this entry »