20 February 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 645
Buy this film on DVD from Cvent
With clear and concise information, the 'Genes and Life' DVD serves its purpose as an introduction to the field of genetics. However, it quickly became quite repetitive and lacked the entertainment value that would have taken it beyond merely an educational DVD.
The programme is divided up into three parts: genes and health, genetic testing and genes and the future of healthcare.
At the beginning, the topic of genetics is introduced well. The viewer has the concept of genes, and their location within our cells, explained to them. Animations help drive home the basics and the incorporation of animations and real-life pictures allow the viewer to apply the information to day-to-day scenarios.
Two categories of diseases are then introduced: rare diseases caused by defects in a single gene (such as sickle cell anaemia), and more common diseases such as diabetes where both genetic and environmental factors play a part. From this point onwards, the two are dealt with separately.
As any medical student will tell you, learning about diseases makes you start looking for symptoms in yourself. So, it's a good thing that at this point the elephant in the room is addressed - do I need a genetic test?
We are quickly reassured by the narrator: 'You should only have a test if there is a good reason for doing so. If a certain disease has never occurred in your or your partner's family, there is no reason to have a test for this disease'.
Next, the programme moves on to discuss the opposing views on genetic testing. It deals with the issues around testing during pregnancy, later in life, as well as the dilemmas you might face if the results are positive, in a sensitive and methodical manner.
But, despite being a thorough process, it gets to be a little repetitive at times - especially since the DVD uses the same scenes of live footage repeatedly. On top of this, the narrative seems to engulf you with information at this point. This sense of being bombarded with facts is somewhat cushioned by the use of bite-size bullet points to list the decisions you might encounter when faced with the prospect of genetic testing, a process that forms part of genetic counselling.
Although the DVD does not attempt to deliver genetic counselling, it does raise awareness and empathy from the perspective of people who do, or don't, choose to undergo genetic counselling. It also sparks debate by touching on issues raised time and again in the media, such as gene therapy, screening embryos before implantation during IVF and the adoption of a fatalistic attitude towards life after diagnosis with a genetic disorder.
After a couple of messages about the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise (accompanied by the acknowledgment that we can't always implement this on an everyday basis) the third section of the DVD begins. The focus here is pharmacogenetics - the idea that your genes will determine how you respond to a particular drug.
The DVD explains that pharmacogenetics might not only be used to tailor-prescribe medication to patients, but that pharmaceutical companies may be able to use information to engineer drugs that will be effective in a subset of the population with a particular genetic defect.
The biggest downside to the DVD is the repetition of the real life images. This reduced my enjoyment factor by reminding me I was watching an educational programme, rather than something designed to entertain.
Otherwise, the information content was excellent and delivered in a concise and easy to understand way. It aims to raise awareness among the general public and, in explaining the background well and keeping away from technical terms or unnecessary details, it definitely succeeds.