Episode 4 Bang Goes the Theory

Episode 4

The team puts more science to the test, including new stem-cell research and the Nocebo effect (placebo's evil twin). And Dallas Campbell goes to a memory boot camp.

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On tonight's programme: Liz joins the team whose new stem


cell research may change organ transplant surgery for ever.


you a little bit nervous about it all? No, not nervous. I have just


got anticipation that something good is going to come from it.


And Dallas discovers why he can never remember where he left his


keys as he books into Memory Boot Camp. So this little connection


here, I mean, that's not a memory in itself? No, it's part of a


memory. So it might be, you know, 100,000th of a memory pattern.


That's Bang Goes The Theory: revealing your world with a bang.


Hello and welcome to tonight's show. Now, I have got to that age where I


keep forgetting things. What have I done with my car keys? Why have I


walked into a particular room? Who are you? It's not good. So I have


decided to investigate the science of memory. How does it all work,


and what can we do to improve our memories? It's time for a memory


MOT. So I have brought this memory with


me. I haven't seen this for many years, but I look at it now and


it's all floods back. I remember playing in the hose, I remember the


hose was absolutely freezing cold. I remember my sister being there. I


think of my brain, if you like, as a kind of filing cabinet for memory.


Somewhere in my brain, there is a bit where that event happens. And


like a filing cabinet, you can go through and pull it out. I know it


is not like that. I think most of us think of things intuitively,


that is an easy way to think about it. But memory is much more like


this dynamic replay. And it captures the things that were of


relevance. The coldness of the water, the sun, the breeze. Those


sensations that you had then are reactivated and you kind of re-


member or re-put-together reality to re-experience it in your head.


So if memory is a mental replaying of past events, how are those


events actually recorded in my mind? When we experience something


that is significant and that we remember later on, what happens is


we change the connections amongst brain cells. All of the brain sort


of takes part in remembering and experience. So it is not at all


that you have these little localised bits of brain that are


special for memory. So when I remember my breakfast this morning,


it is not, there is a location in my brain of "here's breakfast".


here we have a bunch of brain cells, and these cells are special in that


they are like little batteries. They have a little voltage in them


and they can communicate electrical signals to one another and form


circuits. We have, I don't know, 100 billion brain cells in the


brain. There are lots of these. Each neuron can receive thousands


of inputs from different cells. So when this cell is sufficiently


excited, it will send out its own, what we call "a spike" of


electricity, down the cell wire. And here we have these receiving


little tentacles of this other cell here. And here, you can see that


they are making a little connection. So this little connection here, I


mean, that is not a memory in itself? No, it is part of a memory.


So it might be, you know, 100,000th of a memory pattern. So what can I


actually do to improve my memory? I think the important things are to


try to form as rich a web of associations, objects, feelings,


sensations, as you can. And that creates a very rich web of


interconnected neurons. So you have more entryways, or hooks, to get


To create the collection, I needed Her in A series of really dull


objects. And then a vivid complex scene. Let's see, cows in the


street, washing hanging out, there are some people at the bus stop and


somewhere, there, on the balcony, top right, a mobile phone. Now,


after a bit of brainwave analysis, I should be able to see the


difference between a weak memory and a vivid one. OK, so now for the


moment of truth. We are going to see if you one, have a brain. Two,


whether you were able to form some associations, whether thatcaused


physical changes in your brain and whether we can see it. This is my


memory of a shoe from the first group of pictures. The coloured


areas show where neurons were connecting, but this is me


remembering the mobile phone. More connections formed because it was a


richer memory and therefore easier to recall. So there is context with


my object, therefore there is more brain activity and that brain


activity is memories being formed. This brain activity is retrieval of


those extra contextual things, so you are linking these objects with


these rich themes and context. what you're doing is forging real


links between those mundane objects and all of these aspects within the


scene. So you are actually sort of reforming and strengthening


connections within the brain, informing the circuitry of the


brain. Terrifying to think that all of my


early memories are on Super Eight. I am getting old. Better Super


Eight than tapestry. This is true, this is true. Actually, you know


what, we should make the distinction between the natural


loss of efficiency of memory through ageing and actual brain


damage that you can sustain through neuro-degenerative diseases like


Alzheimer's. We are not talking about that, we are talking about


ageing and that sort of thing. thing that struck me most about


your film was that, you know when you have those microscopic images


of the brain, that you could actually see that it was connected


with wires. There are electrical connections. When you hear people


saying "You are not wired up right", you actually aren't wired up right!


It was amazing, we are physical machines, you are absolutely right,


it is an amazing thing. What really Was the contextualisation of memory,


because when I was doing exams, I always literally visually


reproduced a page with a diagram and that was associated with a box


of text here. That was how I learned, visually and contextually.


There is a very good reason for that and we will be getting into


the whole memory and context in the next part of that film later on.


Excellent. OK, next up, stem cells. Scientists have been researching


them for about 30 years now and over that time, it is safe to say


it has become a very controversial subject. That is mainly because the


early research focused on embryos. The stem cells were derived from


the embryos that were replanted into a mother during IVF treatment.


But nowadays, of course, we know that stem cells don't just come


from embryos, they also exist in as adults. And it is those adult stem


cells that are now the subject of the latest research. In fact,


scientists are using an individual's own stem cells, adult


stem cells, to treat that very person's conditions. OK, are you


OK? Just about. Good. We do want you to carry on a little bit longer


if you can. OK. Michael Taylor suffers from a serious heart


condition. He is preparing to join a


pioneering clinical trial. Halfway through this phase now. But first,


his heart is being assessed at the Royal Brompton Hospital to gauge


the severity of his symptoms. I came home from work and I was


absolutely shattered. Which was not normal? Not normal. Literally, I


was watching a programme and I would fall asleep and my wife was


telling me off, saying... "What is wrong with you?" Exactly. And I


couldn't... I just thought it was tiredness. And how are you feeling


about the next stage? Are you calm? You a little bit nervous about it


all? No, not nervous. No, I have just got anticipation that


something good is going to come from it. So I am hoping from this,


I hope I get better. I will keep everything crossed for you. And


well done on that treadmill. I was rooting for you. I needed it! I


need a bit of luck. By volunteering, Michael will help


doctors to discover whether stem cells can be used to relieve his


condition. So, what are stem cells? Now, imagine this is a stem cell.


Stem cells are unique, because they have the ability to generate new


cells of almost any kind. They all start up as unspecialised cells,


but given the right chemical and genetic signals, the stem cells can


divide to form slightly more specialised cells, of different


size, shape and function. And after a few more cycles of division,


these can give rise to highly specialised cells, like heart


muscle cells, for example, that help your heart pump the blood


around your body. Given a different set of signals, this same


unspecialised stem cell can go down an alternative pathway and give


rise to a different type of specialised cell, like a neuron,


that transmits electrical signals in the brain. Compared with stem


cells from embryos, adult stem cells give rise to a smaller number


of cell types, usually those of the organ or tissue in which they are


found. Now, researchers have found adults stem cells in more tissues


than previously thought. Bone marrow, skin, brain, liver, eyes,


and this has led to research into using the patient's own adult stem


cells to repair damaged organs. Just relax back your head. And that


is exactly the focus of the trial Michael Taylor is taking part in.


Led by Professor Anthony Mather at the London Chest Hospital, the


trial is vitally important, because heart disease is still on the rise.


Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the UK, With


nearly three million people suffering from heart conditions in


the UK. Around 800,000 people suffer from this condition of heart


failure. He has got a condition which makes the heart fairly weak


and baggy and it doesn't work very well as a pump. What we're trying


to do is see whether his own stem cells can actually repair that


heart and make it pump effectively again. So if you're looking to


repair heart tissue, do you need to use heart stem cells?


Ideally, yes. The problem is that there are very few of those cells


in the heart, and we have only recently discovered they are there.


And the few heart stem cells that are present clearly aren't capable


of repairing it. And that is really where we step in with our trials.


By using bone marrow as a source of stem cells, we try and enhance the


stem cells in the heart and their ability to repair the damage that


has been caused. This trial tackles heart disease on two fronts.


Michael's bone marrow has already been stimulated to release enormous


amounts of stem cells into his blood. And now, more are to be


harvested directly from the bone marrow in his hip. Are you OK?


fine, thank you. It wasn't that bad at all. Good. As this is still a


trial, only some patients will have the stem cells reinjected. Although


Michael will get an injection directly into his heart, neither he


nor Professor Mather know if it will contain his stem cells or a


placebo. We are about to put either stem cells or placebos into his


coronary arteries. We won't know which until the end of the study,


when we have treated all of our patients. This uncertainty helps


the researchers to rule out the placebo effect from any positive


results they achieve. Professor Mather feeds a tube through


Michael's blood vessels right back to the site of the disease in his


heart. Incredibly, Michael remains fully awake throughout the entire


procedure. Are you all right? fine, thank you. Good. You can't


feel anything? No, I can't feel anything. So that is the first half


we have done. -- first artery. Now the second one and then one more


and we are all finished. All finished. OK. That is it, all done.


That went very well. As you heard, the patient didn't


feel anything. Yes, a very successful procedure. Let's see


The big thing that leaps out at me, how's Michael? I know. Well, what


is really interesting is that for the first time in years, his blood


pressure is back then to normal, and he is cycling again, so it is


looking positive, but we won't know whether he actually got his own


stem cells or a placebo until next June, so fingers crossed. Yes.


think that the potential and the versatility of stem cells is


amazing. Yes, a couple of months ago, doctors already achieved an


entire tracheal implant into a patient using his own stem cells.


So they grew the trachea, the windpipe, in a bioreactor in


something like two days. They implanted it into him and he is


doing really well with it. So this eliminates the need for


immunosuppressant drugs, because you are not going to reject your


own cells, and also, it eliminates this long waiting list for donor


organs, so it is really exciting stuff. I guess as well, you are not


getting one that is already worn. It is brand-new. It is not like


getting a part for your car from the breaker's yard, it is like


getting one straight out of the shop. Nice analogy. What I find


really exciting as a biologist, of course, is that the research is


amazing but it is also a reflection of how incredible our own bodies


are. The stem cells are fascinating entities and the more we learn


about them, the more we will be able to use them in therapies.


is, it is absolutely amazing. Now, in Liz's film, she talked about the


placebo effect, which you have probably heard of. The idea that


just believing in something can have beneficial physiological


effects. But have you heard of a "no-cebo" effect? That is placebo's


evil twin. Well, we sent the evil What would you think if I told you


that just believing that something is going to hurt or make you feel


ill will actually make you suffer even more? It is called the no-cebo


effect and it is very real. I can demonstrate using one of these. It


is called an electrical stimulator. Ow! So, I'm going to need some


willing volunteers. OK, anyone for pain? Bridget, thank you so much


for volunteering. You are looking a bit worried. I am slightly.


going to give you some electric shocks. Are you all right with


that? I think so. What I would like you to do is to rank the pain on


the scale from not painful at all, zero, to the worst possible pain


you can imagine. And the first one, we are going to sit to sort of


medium level. OK? Are you ready? Ouch. So what would you say that


was? Four. Go. Go. There you go. Six? Probably about three, four.


Six. Five. Four. 2-3. Ready? OK, go. Probably go three. Now, here comes


the real no-cebo test. I am going to tell them that I'm cranking up


the level to really high, but actually, I'm going to keep it


exactly the same. OK, now, I'm afraid I'm going to


take it up to very high. OK. Are you ready for this? I am ready. Go.


Ooh. So what would you say that was? I would go for a five.


will go for a five that time, all right. Last one, though, yes? OK.


You're definitely ready? Yes. go. I would say five. Knock


yourself out, go for it. This really will hurt. Right. Go. So I'm


going to go for a seven. Now for the last one, I am afraid I'm going


to take it up to a really high Are you ready for this? Go. What


would you say? An eight? And eight, right, OK. Probably only one more


than the previous one.about five. About six. Well, I have got a


confession to make. Those last two were exactly the same level of


electric shock. Oh! The last two shocks I gave you were exactly the


same intensity. Were they exactly the same? They were exactly the


same. Wow. Why did it feel a bit more tingly? I went to great pains


to tell you that it was going to be more painful. Right. And because


you thought it was going to be more painful, it was more painful.


Definitely felt stronger, yes. definitely felt it was, yes. I felt


that a bit more, yes. So that shows that the pain isn't just to do with


the pain receptors in your skin, it is also to do with what your brain


does with the information. And what is sort of going on is that when


you feel more anxious, is like him I do when I tell you it is going to


really hurt, then your brain gives out a chemical called CCK for short.


And that increases the brain's pain response, making the signals from


its pain receptors seem more painful. So it is a very real


biochemical effect. Right. It is not just in your imagination, it


really is more painful. Ouch. Thank you very much, Dr Yan. I find


that really interesting, because not only does the placebo -no-cebo


effect have an effect on your psychology, it affects you on a


physiological basis, very physically, and that means the


first time, doctors are having to consider a patient's expectations


before they administer a drug or a treatment. That's very new. It is.


My advice if you see Yan in the high Street and he has some kind of


contraption, with wires coming out, you might want to run. OK, more of


Dr Yan now, because here's another one of his puzzles. I have got a


50p and 5p. Considerable difference in size. You might like this as an


amateur magician, because it is a bit like magic. I have cut a hole


in this piece of paper the same size as the 5p. The question is,


how do you get the large 50p through the small hole of the 5p?


actually know this, I can do this, but I can't tell you, obviously,


because of the magicians code and all that. Whatever. You can't tear


the paper. If you want to see how you compare with your brain and Dr


Yan's massive brain teasing brain, go on the website at /bang to see


how it is done. And while you are on that website, check out all of


our live dates. Bang is on the road again all summer. This weekend we


are going to Bradford for the British science Festival, so come


down and say hello. Yes, now it is time for my memory challenge. Why


is it I can remember some things and I can't remember other things.


So for example, I can still remember my chemistry homework from


20 years ago, 25 years ago, when I had to remember the first 20


elements of the periodic table, but I can't remember what I have just


done with my keys. So I have enlisted the help of a memory


champion to get to the bottom of all of this. It is time to go back


Ed, I want to know how good you are, so what I have done is I have


brought a pack of cards. Do you think for example, you would be


able to memorise an entire deck, and if so, how long would it take


you? I can give it a pop. Maybe if you give me a minute or so. This is


a shuffled deck, you reckon you could do this in a minute?


Seriously? That is my claim. cards in a minute, OK. I have a


stopwatch here. That is a shuffled deck of cards. Thank you very much.


Ready? I think I am ready. On your How long was that? That was


actually under a minute, that was 46 seconds. If you can do this, I


will be seriously amazed. It was under a minute. Let's see you go.


So, what have we got? We have got the three of spades. And then the


the three of spades. And then the queen of clubs. The eight of clubs.


And the five of hearts. The two of spades. And after the two of spades,


a mildly mis-shuffled part of the pack, which was the king of spades,


the queen of spades and the jack of spades. So disappointing shuffling


there. Sorry, poor shuffling. the nine of clubs and then the five


of diamonds. Then the four of diamonds and the ten of spades and


the seven of clubs. Shall we go backwards from here now? Yes. Three


of diamonds. And the ace of of diamonds. And the ace of


diamonds. And you know what, I have actually got no idea what that last


card is. The six of clubs. That is ridiculous. That is utterly


ridiculous. Do you have an amazing memory? Are you special?


actually, not at all. What I am doing here is I am using my


imagination to make those cards extraordinarily vivid in my mind.


I'm trying to inject them with a bit of personality and then I am


linking them together into a bigger story. If you are interested in


coming under my tutelage, it would be a pleasure to take you under my


wing. I can reveal to you, they are not fixed, they are just ways of


using your imagination and the latent power of your mind. -- of


tricks. I want to make it even more difficult. I want to try and


remember the entire periodic table of the elements, so from one to 118.


Is that possible for someone like me to do and can you teach me to do


it? I mean, it is possible, but it is going to take a couple of hours,


some imagination and some discipline. Can you help me do it?


I would love to. Brilliant. I have got to ask, why on earth do


we need to do this in the zoo? Good question. The zoo has got a very


interesting space, so lots of good candy for your imagination. We're


going to be using the zoo as a memory pallet to store the memories


we are going to be putting down for the hundred and 18 elements. --


Palace. So for the next couple of hours, you are going to be putting


your imagination into overdrive. We better get on with this. Starting


with calcium. You know the ones before then? Go over them. Hydrogen,


helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon,nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine,


neon, sodium, magnesium, aluminium, silicon, phosphorus, so for,


chlorine, argon, potassium, calcium. -- a sop up. That is 20. So we are


going to basically arrange these memories with bright, visual images


around the spaces as we encounter them. Let's try that little ball of


what I am ignorantly going to call muesli. Little mouse food. Niobium.


Sometimes it is useful saying a word backwards. I am thinking of


Obi-Wan. Ni-Obi-One. Niobium. we have molybdenum. If we divide


that into two, it will be like Molly and denim. Okay, I have got a


niece called Molly, so I'm thinking of my niece called Molly.


Is her middle name Bea? No. Can we pretend it is? Yes. Johnny be good.


So Molly, Bea and then denim. She is wearing jeans. Molly Bea denim.


Then you have got two tin cans and you are going to crawl through the


tin cans to see the anti-money - antimony- protesters. When we get


to the end, it is tellurium. They are a bit like telescopes. There is


a kind of lure to get to the other end. So tel-lure. These things are


like telescopes. OK, so tell. And who are we going to meet in the


middle? The anti-money. That is right. And now we have a really


bizarre set of elements called things like three little pigs, I'm


thinking of the three little pigs.I'm genuinely nervous about


actually leaving here and being Three little pigs forced Bob I am


thinking of the Three Little Pigs. Enjoy the process of recall, that


is very important. As soon as you get anxious, you begin to panic and


you think and you begin to think, that is Cesium. And it's not.


shall we go and put this to the And so the moment of truth.


Hydrogen I shouldn't have too many problems with the first 20 elements.


Helium. Chlorine. Potassium. Calcium.


It is the other 98 I'm going to struggle with.


Here we go. Scandium. Titanium. Vanadium. Er, cobalt. I am


wandering back through the zoo, replaying my memories.


Hello, otter. A strong man fighting a


brontosaurus was strontium. OK, I think this is too easy. What


I want you to do, I will completely randomise it, this will be much


more difficult. I need to know the exact number. I will dive in to


begin with on number 80. Number 80 is Mercury. Let's have a look. That


is correct. How about 118? 118? OK. I am in the pigsty. I'm thinking of


the pigs. It is the last pig. The three little pigs going through to


the end. The mouse muesli. What is the name


of that? Niobium.. And then we went to my niece. She is wearing jeans.


In denim. OK, 51 is Oh, God, what is it called?


I am in the tunnel with the anti- money protesters.


Antinomy. Let's have a look. Very good. So we are down to the last


one. You can look if you want to see it. It is 104. What is behind


104? 104. I feel quite emotional. OK. Rutherfordium. Is that correct?


There it is. That, that is 118 out of 118. Well done. That is super


impressive. I have to say, you know, when we first met today, and you


were looking at your deck of cards, I was like, wow. I had no clue that


I would be able to do this, genuinely. I genuinely did not


think I would be able to do it. Well, you have done stunningly well.


Thank you very much. You were amazing.


That is impressive. I have finally finished my homework, 25 years too


late. Get in. Do you remember them all? Yes. Can I test you? Yes.


so what is 111? 111 is roentgenium. Yes. OK, give me the atomic number


of francium. Francium is 8 Oh, blimey, 87? Yes, well done. And you


still associate bits of the zoo with each element? You kind of do.


It makes total sense. You think about the human brain, we are very


good at finding our way around the space, we are very visual. So


applying what we are naturally good at to our memories makes the


memories more vivid. It makes them stand out. It is a brilliant


technique. And if you want to find out more about Dallas's amazing


memory technique, go to the website, and while you are there, find a


link to the Open University and check out their interactive


periodic table. Good stuff. That is it for this week. Next week, I'm


tracking down an increasingly common and unwelcome guest in our


beds. The bedbug. And I am off to Caltech to look deep into space


using very interesting techniques. And Dr Yan is handing out bacon


The team puts more science to the test. Liz Bonnin investigates new stem-cell research that could change the face of organ transplant surgery, Dr Yan Wong tries out the Nocebo effect (placebo's evil twin), and at a memory boot camp Dallas Campbell discovers how to remember where he left his keys.

The programme is co-produced with the Open University. For more ways to put science to the test, go to www.bbc.co.uk/bang and follow the links to The Open University.

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