Science Update - Puberty and Death

01 April 2007

Interview with

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon

Bob -   This week for the Naked Scientists, we're going to talk about puberty and death. I'm going to talk about why seemingly trivial problems can send teens into rage or depression, but first, Chelsea's going to tell us why a computer may someday make some of your toughest decisions for you.GravestoneChelsea -   Computers could someday make end-of-life decisions for people who can't communicate and haven't 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 members--just 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 husband's fate, still aren't 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 brain's 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, it's easy to see why stress that seems mild to adults could lead to extreme anxiety in young teens.Chelsea -   Thanks, Bob. Next time we'll bring you more stories from the land where overreaction is a way of life. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald...Bob -   And I'm Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, The Science Society. Back to you, Naked Scientists!

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