Monday, June 02, 2008

House ATG.GAC.

I don't watch a lot of network television, but there are a handful of programs that have latched onto me. At the end of this season, there were just two and by accident rather than design (or perhaps it is the current plethora of such) they are both hospital-based. Last week I viewed the last of the new episodes off my PVR – so in place of a new episode this week, I’ll try to sketch out my own

House M.D. is an hourlong drama focusing on Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant diagnostician who is also an extremely difficult human being. He terrorizes his three junior colleagues, who are trapped in his orbit like the inner moons of Jupiter -- and subject to similar violent (though only psychologically) tidal forces. Three previous assistants have attained somewhat more distant orbits, though one has spiraled back in. His boss & a colleague attempt to be friends, but get much grief for their efforts.

As with most series TV, there is a basic formula, a framework which the writers decorate or modify each week, rarely breaking it entirely. The scheme here generally starts with a patient arriving with some strange, dramatic set of symptoms (usually exposited prior to the opening credits). House is either intrigued or blackmailed by his boss into taking the case Lots of diagnostic dead ends follow (and new symptoms appear), accompanied by exorbitant amounts of testing. House's assistants provide the union of all high tech medicine & are capable of running any diagnostic under the sun (somehow, the hospital lacks lab techs!). By the end, the case is solved -- and more often than not the patient survives (a few lose the lottery).

One thing you actually DON'T see much of is DNA testing -- once in a while, but it hardly shows up as much as on a CSI/Law & Order type police procedural. DNA testing just doesn't televise well; the best you can do is show someone drawing their own blood (what, no buccal swabs?). In contrast, the MRI room has lots of fun angles -- private conversations behind the console, bouts of claustrophobia, or dramatic races to reach the suddenly stricken patient. Sequencers just aren't very dramatic.

So, I'm going to suggest an episode. Perhaps this qualifies as a "treatment" in Hollywood-speak. I have no desire for a career there, but if the writers take the idea I'd hardly turn down a walk-on.

A patient arrives at Princeton-Plainsboro seeking House due to a mysterious set of symptoms which has afflicted her for years. As usual with such, House is disdainful -- until the patient tries to hand him a DVD but dramatically collapses instead with some interesting symptom along the way. When the patient regains conciousness in a hospital bed, they start asking about the DVD again -- and then deliver the trump card: the DVD has her genome sequence on it.

House has no great interest in the DVD, and argues how useless it is. He's patently annoyed by it. One of the assistants makes the mistake of rising to the bait and proposing that perhaps a critical clue lies within -- and thereby gets assigned the task of cross-referencing EVERY polymorphism against the patient's symptoms. Several dead ends come from the DNA data, but nothing useful -- or in reality, just too many hypotheses which are too tenuous to do anything with. That doesn't stop the young assistants from batting some around and debating the now and future utility of such scans.

Now, as an aside, the story really (in my opinion) needs a complete genome scan. However, if there is a desire to garner some product placement that would narrow the candidates to one (Knome) at this stage. SNP scans are quite as dramatic!

At the end, the patient's puzzle is solved & they get to proceed in life knowing what they have & able to manage it. But, the kicker is that the assistant now cross-references the now known disease against the polymorphisms and comes up with an answer -- but it was buried deep within hundreds of other equally supported hypotheses. Finish the episode with some more back-and-forth amongst the characters about how this might play out the next time. How their careers might change. How well (or not so well) their training has prepared them for this.


Anonymous said...

*falls over laughing* I can see it now!

HOUSE: What's the p-value on that diagnosis?
FELLOW: What's a p-value?

Mr. Gunn said...

I liked the episode where they did some test and ruled out idiopathic something or other.