Sunday, 11 October 2009

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory.

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.
For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ; and now the focus of billions of $, £, & Y, worth of research to penetrate its secrets.

Researchers in Brooklyn N.Y. 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.

Millions of people might be tempted to erase a severely painful memory, for instance — but what if, in the process, they lost other, personally important memories that were somehow related? Would a treatment that “cleared” the learned habits of addiction only tempt people to experiment more widely?

In this field we are merely at the foothills of an enormous mountain range, and unlike in other areas of science, it is still possible for an individual or small group to make important contributions, without any great expenditure or some enormous lab.”

But, how on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything — poems, emotional reactions, locations of favourite bars, distant childhood scenes? The idea that experience leaves some trace in the brain goes back at least to Plato’s Theaetetus metaphor of a stamp on wax, and in 1904 the German scholar Richard Semon gave that ghostly trace a name: the engram.

What could that engram actually be?

The answer, previous research suggests, is that brain cells activated by an experience keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word quickly goes out to the larger network of cells, each apparently adding some detail, sight, sound, smell. The brain appears to retain a memory by growing thicker, or more efficient, communication lines between these cells.

Bottom line is: we’re getting close to controlling memory, and that means closer control of our thoughts! Imagine no more off days, no more regrets, and no more getting over it!..... That’s big.

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