An award-winning Cambridge Neuroscientist is working to treat drug addiction by erasing memories. Barry Everitt is a Cambridge University Professor who is trying to develop new ways to block brain chemicals that illicit emotional memories.
This new research will not be a cure for drug addiction, nor will it damage conscious remembering. An addict will still be able to remember taking drugs but the emotional feeling of need, also known as the compulsion will be gone.
“It's the emotional intrusiveness of drug and fear memoirs that can be diminished, rather than an individual's episodic memory that they did in the past take drugs or had a traumatic experience,” Everitt said. “Conscious remembering is intact after consolidation blockade, but the emotional arousal [that] leads to drug seeking or distressing feelings of fear that are diminished.”
Everitt and his team have already had several successes in erasing drug memories in rats. They found that when a rat recalls a memory, that memory becomes changeable. Sort of like opening a document on a computer, when the memory or document is open, it can be changed or erased.
By blocking brain chemicals in rats Everett was able to effectively erase the emotional memories of drugs in rats. Another successful way the research found to stop these memories was to weaken a gene in the amygdala which is an area of the brain that deals with emotion and memory.
While deactivating genes in a person’s brain is not an effective way to treat addiction, it did teach the researchers a great deal and allowed them to better understand the workings of the brain around addiction.
This new discovery could lead to a simply pill that removed a person’s compulsion to use drugs. When paired with traditional therapies, this could reduce relapses and increase the number of drug users seeking treatment. The treatment could also be paired with other aftercare options to provide people with a safety net.
To learn more about drug addiction, check out the Life Works Drugs Knowledge Centre.