Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.
The Speed-Dial Molecule
For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ — and, now, the focus of billions of dollars’ worth of research to penetrate its secrets.
This is the first article in a series that will look in depth at some of the insights these projects are producing.
Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.
The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.
So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.
The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable: neuroscience, the study of the brain.
“If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the possible implications,” said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. “For trauma. For addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory and learning.” Read the rest of this entry »