Science Update - Antidepressants and Flapping Planes

The Naked Scientists spoke to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from the AAAS
02 April 2006

Interview with 

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from the AAAS


Helen - We're now going to go over to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from the AAAS for this week's Science Update. This week we'll be finding out whether anti-depressant drugs really stop you feeling blue, and 'is it bird, is it a plane', we look to the sky for a plane that flaps its wings.

Chelsea - For the Naked Scientists this week we'll be learning about a tiny plane that flaps its wing, but first, the use of antidepressant drugs has sky rocketed in the past two decades. But scientists are examining whether those drugs are really curing depression or simply masking it.

Bob - And according to a new study in mice, the roots of depression may lie in parts of the brain that anti-depressants can't get to. It was led by scientist Eric Nestler at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Centre. His team found that when small mice were repeatedly bullied by larger mice, they lost interest in food, sex and socialising like depressed people. Their brains also shut down production of a key protein in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in human depression. Anti-depressants temporarily counteracted the problem but didn't fix the underlying cause.

Eric - This could well be one mechanism of why people on anti-depressants for either depression or post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety relate syndromes, often have to remain on their medication for years or sometimes a lifetime.

Bob - These findings could point the way towards a more permanent cure.

Chelsea - Bugs and birds flap their wings. Aeroplanes don't. But now there's an exception to this simple rule of thumb.

Bob - And it's called the DelFly. It's a foot-long plane inspired by the dragonfly and developed by engineering students at Delft University in the Netherlands. Team leader Dan van Genickan says the flapping wings allow the plane to fly fast or slow and even to stop and hover. Thanks to a miniature camera that interacts with computers on the ground, the DelFly can be programmed to recognise almost anything, like safety hazards at a construction site.

Dan - You could tell it to send a signal if it sees a crack in a pipe, for example. Then it just flies around and as soon as it sees something that is predefined, it will give a signal to the base station and say that it's found it.

Bob - Of course it could also be a powerful surveillance tool in foreign combat zones or domestic terrorist targets.

Chelsea - Well that's all for this week's Science Update. Next week we'll hear from a scientist who is studying the link between pain and obesity. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald.

Bob - And I'm Bob Hirshon for the AAAS, the science society. Back to you Naked Scientists.


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