The world is full of threats to our survival – some we’re aware of and some we can’t see – and our bodies are constantly adapting to these dangers.
In the second episode of Incredible Medicine: Dr Weston’s Casebook, airing on Wed 1 Mar at 9.00pm on BBC One, we’ll meet some extraordinary individuals who push this ability to the absolute limit.
Steve Ludwin has an unusual and highly dangerous habit: for more than 30 years he has regularly injected himself with deadly snake venom, believing it has health-giving properties. At the University of Copenhagen pharmaceutical engineers Andreas Hougaard Laustsen and Brian Lohse have been trying to develop anti-venoms to treat snake bites, and they think the secret may lie inside Steve’s unique blood.
Wim Hoff is known as the Iceman because of his astonishing ability to endure cold temperatures, which would induce death by hypothermia for most people. At Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands a team of researchers tried to find out exactly what happens in Wim’s body when he’s encased in ice, leading them to a truly remarkable discovery about how we can control our own immune system. It could transform how we treat common autoimmune diseases in the future, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Fear is a crucial safety mechanism that prevents us from getting into dangerous situations, but Jordy Cernick is a man who can’t feel fear at all. Jordy was diagnosed with a rare condition which meant his body was producing too much of the stress hormone cortisol. The only option was an operation to remove the glands that produce this chemical – the adrenal glands. In doing so, a vital part of his fear response was removed. To find out if anything of it remains, scientists monitored Jordy’s vital signs as he abseiled down a 127m tower.
Lucy Tonge suffers from a rare condition called cataplexy with narcolepsy, meaning any emotion can cause her body to collapse without warning. A possible cure for this condition has come from research carried out by Prof Emmanuel Mignot from Standford University and a study of dogs with narcolepsy.
Ultimately, when it comes to survival we rely on the cells of the body and in particular the white blood cells of our immune system. Timothy Ray Brown is the only person on earth who can claim to have been cured of the devastating disease HIV. Tim contracted HIV and later Leukaemia and was treated using a stem cell transplant from a very special donor. This person had a mutation in their blood which meant the HIV virus couldn’t latch on to and infect the cells of the immune system. The operation not only cured his leukaemia, it also meant he was free of the ‘incurable’ HIV.
Pictured are Scientists from Radbund University use volunteers to test the breathing techniques of Wim Hoff
Incredible Medicine: Dr Weston’s Casebook Episode 2 (of 6) airs on Wednesday 1 March 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC TWO.