Medication hopes to erase traumatic memories
The drug in question, fingolimod, has been tested on mice and was found to help rid them of memories of physical pain. The experiment, published in Nature Neuroscience, involved feeding mice the drug before giving them a mild electric shock. Normally, when mice are anxious they stop moving and have a fear of the chamber where they were given the shock. This behaviour rapidly reduced when the mice were given the fingolimod.
Scientists are hoping that this drug can be used in the future to remove bad memories and feelings associated with traumatic events – something that can be re-learnt, without the painful memories. This process is known as ‘fear extinction’ and has the potential to help rid sufferers of phobias and post-traumatic stress.
Up until now, no drug has been found to suppress such feelings successfully. Previous drug trials looked at medication that suppresses an enzyme known as HDAC, but trials showed that while sometimes successful, these drugs also had the potential to amplify memories.
The team who are looking into fingolimod hope that with further study they will be able to develop a version that suppresses the memories without changing the immune system (a current side-effect of the drug).
Removing painful memories from the past isn’t a new idea, in fact scientists have been attempting to heal painful memories for decades, but the last 10 years have seen real progress. While it is unlikely that it will ever be possible to remove individual memories without subsequently destroying others, scientists are happy that the pace of progress regarding solutions for painful memories and trauma is gaining speed.
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