23 May 2011
Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of SheffieldAppeared in BioNews 608
BBC1, Thursday 5 May 2011
Presented by Michael Mosley
'Inside the Human Body' is the new science series playing out on BBC One at 9pm on Thursday evenings. It is a four-part series showing the workings of the human body and is presented by Michael Mosley. The first programme, entitled 'Creation' took the viewer on a spectacular journey to illustrate the science of conception, fetal development and birth.
When BioNews asked me to review this programme, I was initially reluctant. Not because I didn't want to, but because for the past year I had been working on 'Creation' as a scientific consultant. But when it was explained that my experience might provide interesting and somewhat different insights than a traditional review, I agreed.
My first meeting with this programme's director and researcher was in March 2010, more than a year before broadcast. I was given an outline of the programme, shown some of the early footage and was asked for my views on some of the stories being used to illustrate the science. It was the storytelling of people's real lives to illustrate scientific marvels that hooked me into the programme and encouraged me to agree to be involved. The production team had already found some of the programme's central characters and it was clear the series would have high production values.
The central story of 'Creation' was about Diane who was expecting non-identical triplets without using IVF. The programme used the story of her pregnancy to illustrate aspects of normal and abnormal fetal development, including how identical twins are formed. The latter was illustrated by the remarkable story of Ronnie and Donnie, the world's oldest conjoined twins at age 59 who have spent a lifetime with a shared physiology.
The story of how the sperm and egg come together in the first place is difficult to show on television using real images so the programme drew heavily on computer graphics. A large part of my role was working with the director to make sure those computerised sequences looked as realistic as possible. I mostly think we succeeded, although I agree with some of the viewers' comments on Twitter who suggested the human egg rolling down the fallopian tube looked somewhat like a scotch egg!
Other stories included a woman in the USA, called Christi, who had spent 12 years of her adult life pregnant. At the time of the filming she was pregnant with her 16th child, which shows that some couples can be remarkably fertile! But it was two other stories that brought me close to tears several times as I watched rough cuts of the programme.
The first was the work of the charity 'Operation Smile' who undertake corrective surgery on infants in developing countries who are born with cleft palates and lips. This was used in the programme to explain how the face is formed during fetal development and how sometimes that process goes wrong and needs surgical correction. The results of the reconstruction surgery shown were miraculous.
The second was the story of a woman called Makosi in Rwanda who was pregnant with her first child and had to walk two hours from her home to the nearest maternity hospital on the day of her delivery. She didn't manage it and had to become a pillion passenger on a motorcycle taxi for half of the journey. She had a successful singleton delivery, which was quite a contrast from the high-tech birth given to Diane and her triplets!
From my perspective, working on this programme was a great opportunity and I sincerely hope the end product was worth more than a year of preparation by me and the production team.