Biology is undergoing a revolution that is radically changing our conception of evolution. Our genes don’t control everything: they can be influenced by fascinating mechanisms recently brought to light by international research teams.
Horizon investigates a new era of Alzheimer's research, which is bringing hope to millions of sufferers across the world. New scanning and gene technology is allowing scientists to identify the disease at its earliest stages, often 15 years before symptoms appear and the brain cells are destroyed. A series of new drugs trials in Colombia, the USA and Europe are showing startling success in reducing beta amyloid, the protein which is a hallmark of the disease. It is also becoming clear that changes in lifestyle can prevent the development of the disease. A new system inside the brain has been discovered which clears amyloid when we are in deep sleep, but allows it to accumulate if we don't sleep well. The programme reveals that for sufferers in the early stages of the disease, brain connections, or synapses, can be strengthened and even replaced by absorbing enough of the right nutrients. A UK-wide trail helps sufferers in the early stages to concentrate on improving everyday tasks, and in the process not only make their lives easier, but helps to reactivate the planning and organisational parts of the brain. In an ageing world, where the biggest risk of developing Alzheimer's is old age, the scientific breakthroughs in Alzheimer's disease are bringing hope where once there was despair.
A fresh perspective on autism research with the developing "Bacterial Theory" of autism. The fastest-growing developmental disorder in the industrialized world, autism has increased an astounding 600 per cent over the last 20 years. Science cannot say why. Some say it's triggered by environmental factors and point to another intriguing statistic: 70 per cent of kids with autism also have severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Could autism actually begin in the gut? The Autism Enigma looks at the progress of an international group of scientists who are studying the gut's amazingly diverse and powerful microbial ecosystem for clues to the baffling disorder.
The body's superhuman abilities are most starkly revealed in the area of trauma - one of the world's biggest killers. Medical teams have traditionally tried to reverse the changes which occur when the body goes into trauma, but doctors are now beginning to realise that the changes which occur in the body after an injury such as the loss of blood and severe drops in temperature serve an important purpose in the recovery process.
The possibility of medicine to replace damaged organs in the body is making important headway. This programme reports on efforts to replace the most inaccessible organs with spare parts - the cochlea of a profoundly deaf two year-old and damaged retinal cells with light sensitive electronic chips are two case studies featured in the programme.
Stem cells found in the bone marrow are crucial for our health because they are needed to become new blood cells that sustain and protect our bodies. But when the transformation goes wrong, harmful mutations can cause the cells to start replicating without control -- a type of cancer known as leukemia. Danilo Allegra and Dania Puggioni explain how this happens and how certain treatments provide hope for those suffering from the disease.