Memory Wipes Could Cure Drug Addiction
Erasing memories related to drug use could help keep addicts from relapsing.
Step aside, Men in Black, memory wipes could soon be used to treat drug addiction as well as blocking alien invasions.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge believe that disrupting memory pathways in the brain could be the key to addiction therapy in the future, since drug memories drive craving and drug-seeking behavior.
Professor Barry Everitt is undertaking several experiments to study "memory plasticity" in mice in order to try and shift behavioral control. When someone becomes addicted, seeking out drugs moves from goal-directed, voluntary action to an involuntary and compulsive habit. According to Everitt, drug cravings and relapse are a result of powerful drug-associated memories.
“We specifically examined how we could target these maladaptive drug-related memories, and prevent them from triggering drug-taking and relapse," said Everitt.
In other studies, researchers have found that when the memories are recalled, they enter an unstable state. During this unstable state, the memory can be changed or erased by blocking certain chemical receptors. Another method of memory wiping was to alter a gene in the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotional memory.
“Of course, inactivating genes in the brain is not feasible in humans. So we’re directing our research to better identify the underlying brain mechanisms of memory reconsolidation," said Everitt.
There is a long way to go before memory wipes can be applied to humans, if ever, but if researchers can get the process to work, the process could be used to treat a wide degree of issues aside from addiction, including PTSD and other anxiety disorders.