Researchers in Florida say they have now demonstrated a method in mice that disrupts unwanted memories while leaving the rest untouched. The results, which were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, reveal that such a discovery is not fiction, but a possible reality.
This is especially significant in the treatment of addiction, specifically meth addiction. According to Science Daily, the research team successfully erased drug-associated memories in mice and rats, providing hope for recovering addicts or people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve noted that former methamphetamine addicts have reported drug craving triggered by memory associations. The hope is that this sort of medical development will help, especially with relapse rates.
Like me, you’re probably wondering, how do they target specific memories without damaging others, or even the brain itself?
The researchers found that the brain stores drug-associated memories differently than other memories; in fact, drug memories are formed quite rapidly. By using a drug that targets that, it got rid of that memory; but because other memories take longer to form, they remained intact.
The process of forming drug-associated memories seems to happen really fast, so we put a drug in that disrupts that. But the drug doesn’t work on a normal memory, because the cycle happens so slowly the memory can replenish itself before the drug can affect it.
So, would people lose all memory of taking meth—like that entire time in their life?
This is not yet known. Courtney Miller, who is leading the research says, “We’re trying to work it out…the brain is really complex and good at associating a lot of things, so my hope is that …it’s only the most direct memories that will be affected.”
When will there be human trials?
Besides all of the ethical and moral questions the nature of this research raises, there are also a lot of “kinks” to work out before any testing on humans will be done. Right now it’s being done with rats, and the method involves putting the drug directly into the rats’ brains, but with people we obviously can’t do that. It will either be taken by injection or in pill form. Researchers are working on a way to do that safely, because there can be problems with things like muscle contractions and cell division.
Other Applications of the Study
Researchers are still figuring out just how many and what types of memories are stored in this unique way. One obvious way of branching out from meth addiction is to look at whether it’ll work with other drugs like heroin, oxycodone, and even nicotine and alcohol.
And researchers are looking at other applications of this treatment, not just for addiction. People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may see a benefit in it, as well. The question being, are traumatic memories, things associated with PTSD also stored differently? Researchers have reason to believe that they might be; there might be something about really strong memories that the brain stores them in a different way.
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