WASHINGTON, July 18, 2017 — If you could eliminate the most traumatic memories and fears you have ever experienced in your life, would you? According to what may be explosive scientific findings detailed in the journal Current Biology, we may finally be able to rid the human brain of anxiety, fear and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Survivors of war, the death of a loved one, and myriad other traumatizing events may finally be freed from the trauma and anxiety, according to researchers from McGill and Columbia University.
They believe that they can erase negative triggering details from a person’s memory with new medications, reports the Huffington Post.
Some may fear that the targeted erasure of memory will lead to an Orwellian nightmare, but Samuel Schacher disagrees. The professor of neuroscience at Columbia and a study co-author thinks the elimination of fear stemming from traumatic events could be a benefit. In a Columbia University Medical Center release, he says,
“The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on.”
The very thought that a mailbox could trigger heightened fear, as could touching a piece of mail or passing a post office. Removing that fear from the brain would be a positive change agent for both anxiety sufferers and their families.
Researchers base this possibility on tests with Aplysia snails. These snails have a relatively large nervous system which is both well understood and easily manipulated.
The scientists’ experiments on the motor and sensory neurons led to the discovery that “associative (unwanted) memory, or a non-associative (necessary) memory in a snail’s brain could be deleted by blocking different protein molecules,” according to the study.
They conclude that it is possible to eliminate some memories without losing others on the same neuron. So, for those who might be fearful that erasing a traumatic memory would harm their other memories, this finding may assuage their fears.
Is this the breakthrough that psychiatrists have needed to treat trauma patients? Jiangyuan Hu, PhD, an associate research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at CUMC and co-author of the paper believes so.
According to Hu,
“Memory erasure has the potential to alleviate PTSD and anxiety disorders by removing the non-associative memory that causes the maladaptive physiological response.” He adds, “By isolating the exact molecules that maintain non-associative memory, we may be able to develop drugs that can treat anxiety without affecting the patient’s normal memory of past events.”