Erasing bad memories?

Researchers at Harvard University and McGill University are working on developing an amnesia drug that could suppress or delete bad memories. This is good news for people who have suffered from traumas whose memories relentlessly haunt their lives.

Researchers at Harvard University and McGill University are working on developing an amnesia drug that could suppress or delete bad memories. This is good news for people who have suffered from traumas whose memories relentlessly haunt their lives.

In a first study, the researchers administered a medication called propranolol, also used to treat amnesia, in conjunction with therapy in the hopes of attenuating a specific memory. The nineteen patients were either accident or rape victims, took the medication for 10 days or were given a placebo. Throughout the treatment period, the researchers asked the patients to describe their memories of the traumatic event they had lived through 10 years earlier. A week later, the patients who had received propranolol showed fewer signs of stress while evoking the events.

In another study from New York University, rats received an experimental amnesia drug called U0126, which apparently had permitted the deletion of a specific memory. The researchers began by creating a memory in the rats by administering mild electrical shocks while having them listen to two musical tones. The rats clearly associated the musical tone to the electrical shock which made them freeze as soon as they heard them, to avoid getting jolted.

The researchers then administered the drug to half the rats while they had them listen to one of the two musical tones. Following the treatment, the rats who had received the drug no longer froze when they heard that specific musical tone, but still froze when they heard the second. According to the researchers, the behaviour clearly shows that the medication had only erased one memory, leaving the other intact.

Although these studies are still in preliminary stages, they hold a ray of hope for those who have to live with the haunting memories of traumatic events.

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