Monday, 26 January 2015

Decoding Annie Parker Review - "BRCA1ng bad"

Decoding Annie Parker is a film about the discovery of the BRCA1 gene and its role in breast cancer.
Here's the trailer.

I was drawn to the film as I thought there may be a good chance of science being represented fairly accurately on film. The problem is that the film isn't really focused on the science. I can understand the reluctance to make a film solely about the science as it's easier to get drama out of a cancer patient and her family (which most people can sadly relate to) than out of research (less people can relate to it). So unfortunately the film is 90% family drama, which is fine if you like that kind of thing but it was all a bit "hallmark" channel for me. The cast is surprisingly good in the sense several of them have broke out since 2013 so there's that.

In terms of the science the thing I approved of most was the fact that it took them a long time to complete the research. It was long even by research standards (16 years). As opposed to the hollywood version which would have been "Annie Parker goes to the Dr in the morning, scientist takes a blood sample, they look at it in 3D under a microscope (or ideally an interactive projection), discover the gene, raise some antibdodies against it in the afternoon, inject her with the antibodies and her cancer is cured by the evening.

They also tried their best to avoid "eureka" moments although there was one scene of Dr King channelling the spirit of Mendel and scrawling on some family trees and suddenly working it all out. I don't know if that event ever happened so I can't be too critical but it seemed dubious.

The other thing I haven't been able to verify but struck me as highly incongruous was that King's research team remained the same for 16 years. That means they either obtained an amazing set of contracts and/or never published anything else and so left to start their own labs. I'm willing to bet this was for dramatic convenience.

I can't really recommend the film as I'm not that interested in such dramas but I guess it does do a good job of highlighting how long research can take and how the knowledge it obtains can provide comfort even when it doesn't immediately provide a solution. It's also a good example of how anecdotal evidence/knowledge can mesh with scientific hypotheses.

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