Science Interviews


Sat, 31st Mar 2007

Science Update - Puberty and Death

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon

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Bob -   This week for the Naked Scientists, weíre going to talk about puberty and death. Iím going to talk about why seemingly trivial problems can send teens into rage or depression, but first, Chelseaís going to tell us why a computer may someday make some of your toughest decisions for you.Gravestone

Chelsea -   Computers could someday make end-of-life decisions for people who canít communicate and havenít left any record of their wishes. Bioethicist David Wendler of the National Institutes of Health says the program predicts what medical care people would want based on the preferences of similar people. Even with just a little data, the program guesses with the same accuracy as family membersójust about 70 percent. Wendler says more data could up that to 90 percent.

David Wendler (National Institutes of Health):  So basically what our findings show is that I can do a better job at predicting your end-of-life treatment preferences by looking at the preferences of people who are like you in similar ways (age, gender, race, religion, etc.) than I can by asking your wife of 40 years.

Chelsea -   Why that is, and how that wife would feel about letting a computer decide her husbandís fate, still arenít known.

Bob -   Thanks, Chelsea. Teenagers are known for extreme mood swings, generally blamed on hormones. Now, scientists may have figured out why. Neuropharmocologist Sheryl Smith at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center explains that during stress, the body releases a chemical called THP that causes a tranquilizing effect on nerve cells in the brainís emotion center.

Sheryl Smith (SUNY Downstate Medical Center):  And so it will allow you to adapt a bit to the stress, to not feel as freaked out, and calm down a little and be able to handle the stress.

Bob -   But in young mice, she found that hormones during puberty alter these brain cells, so when THP reaches them, instead of triggering a calming effect, they trigger extreme anxiety. If the mouse model holds true for people, itís easy to see why stress that seems mild to adults could lead to extreme anxiety in young teens.

Chelsea -   Thanks, Bob. Next time weíll bring you more stories from the land where overreaction is a way of life. Until then, Iím Chelsea Wald...

Bob -   And Iím Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, The Science Society. Back to you, Naked Scientists!


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