'Science can now remove depressing memories from mind'

'We can erase a fearful memory in mice, suggesting in people there might be a way too' says professor

News Desk February 23, 2017

Scientists have found a way to erase depressing memories from the human mind as was depicted in the science fiction movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

This will mean that in the near future, doctors will be able to eradicate fearful, anxious memories from our minds and can treat those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) better.

No matter how relieving this discovery may sound, there are still a myriad of ethical issues attached to it and it would take a lot of time for scientists to start practicing it.

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The study which is termed as “proof of principle” was tested on mice when they were made to associate a particular sound with an electric shock. Later on, scientists discovered that the shock could be turned on and off.

Professor Sheena Josselyn of the University of Toronto said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that they have discovered specific brain cells where a memory is stored. She was speaking at a press briefing about the research.

“So we can target where in the brain a memory has gone,” she said. “We can then decrease the activity in these cells… And it is as if we erase the memory.”

Josselyn said when they experimented this on mice, they appeared to be unperturbed by what they heard which had previously sort of shocked them.

The scholar said they also increased the intensity of the shock which brought back the lost memory and caused a short-term, unpleasant effect on the mice.

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“We can turn memory on and turn memory off,” Professor Josselyn said. “It really does give us proof of principle. If there’s a memory problem, we don’t have to target the entire body or the entire brain,” she added.

The professor says the same can be implemented on human beings. “We can erase a fearful memory in mice, suggesting in people there might be a way of targeting just those cells that are important in just this traumatic memory, perhaps getting rid of this traumatic memory.”

Another scholar of the association, Professor Eichenbaum, warned that killing some of the cells might be harmful for human beings.

“If this memory was particularly severe and was destroying your life, that might be a reasonable compromise,” he said.

But there are also many ethical questions attached to removing memories from the brain as it would make us forget our mistakes instead of helping us learn from them.

“The ethics are a really important question. I think we are the sum total of our memories,” Josselyn said.

“We all learn from our mistakes. If we erase the memory of our mistakes, what is to keep us from repeating them?”

The article originally appeared on The Independent.

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