UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

April 30, 2009 at 5:44 PM
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NASA approves May 11 space shuttle launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency says it's completed a readiness review of space shuttle Atlantis and approved its launch to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said the launch for the STS-125 mission has been set for 2:01 p.m. EDT May 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The readiness review included the assessment of risks associated with the mission and the determination that the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for the flight.

The 11-day mission by Commander Scott Altman and his six crewmates will include five spacewalks to refurbish Hubble with state-of-the-art science instruments. After the astronauts' visit, the telescope's capabilities will be expanded and its lifetime extended through at least 2014.

Potential depression drug target is found

IOWA CITY, Iowa, April 30 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have identified an acid-sensitive brain protein that might become a new drug target for the treatment of depression.

Investigators at the University of Iowa, led by researcher Matthew Coryell and Dr. John Wemmie, said they determined disrupting acid-sensitive ion channel-1a produces antidepressant-like effects in mice. They said that finding might one day benefit people who don't respond to traditional antidepressants or who can't tolerate their side effects.

Although animal models can't reproduce all the symptoms of human depression, the researchers said several behavioral tests show rodents are sensitive to antidepressant treatment, suggesting they address important aspects of the disease.

For example, chronically stressed mice lose their normal preference for sugary drinks and mice repeatedly placed in a pool tend to give up and float rather than swim i hope of escaping. Those mouse behaviors, the researchers said, are thought to reflect hopelessness or despair and loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

Traditional antidepressants are able to restore in mice the preference for sweet treats and reduce the amount of time they float rather than swim.

The researchers said they determined the new treatment works through a different biological pathway than traditional antidepressants, suggesting it may benefit people who do not respond to traditional therapies.

The research appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

NASA to measure ocean salinity from space

PASADENA, Calif., April 30 (UPI) -- U.S. space agency scientists say they are preparing a satellite to measure the salinity of Earth's oceans.

The Aquarius satellite, to be launched during May 2010, will be the first National Aeronautics and Space Administration instrument to track sea salinity from space.

Sea saltiness has been measured for centuries by samples taken by ships' crews or, more recently, by automated buoys. But there are vast areas of the ocean where salinity has never been measured, NASA said. Although scientists know average sea levels have risen during the past century due to global warming, they don't know what climate change is doing to the salinity of the oceans.

"This is an important question because big shifts in salinity could be a warning that more severe droughts and floods are on their way, or even that global warming is speeding up," NASA said.

"People don't realize that there is so much water and so little land," said Amit Sen, NASA project manager for Aquarius at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He said Aquarius is expected to shed light on El Nino and La Nina, phases of the world's most powerful climate phenomena, reveal insights into how monsoons develop and how the oceans' salinity can change our lives.

Study: Social separation stops flu spread

PERTH, Australia, April 30 (UPI) -- An Australian study shows flu interventions must be imposed quickly and must be maintained for a relatively long period if they are to be effective.

University of Western Australia Professor George Milne and colleagues said staying at home, closing schools and isolating infected people within the home should reduce infection, but only if they are used in combination, and activated without delay.

The researchers simulated the effect of social-distancing on the spread of a flu virus within a small town, using a software program engineered by university research fellow Joel Kelso.

"Our results suggest a critical role of combined social-distancing measures in the potential control of a future pandemic," said Milne. "Non-pharmaceutical social-distancing interventions are capable of preventing less-infectious influenza epidemics and of significantly reducing the rate of development and overall burden of the worst epidemics."

The research investigated the effects, alone and in combination, of workplace non-attendance, school closure, isolating infected family members inside the home and reducing contact within the wider community.

"While such draconian measures seem unlikely to be mandated given their impact on personal freedom, they appear to have a key role to play in delaying the development of a 'worst case' influenza epidemic," Milne said.

The study appears in the journal BMC Public Health.

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