BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A debilitating fear a tragic loss or a bad habit. It seems like we all would like to forget something. For some, painful memories can affect every part of their lives. Now, researchers are studying ways to help them forget.
Pictures, medals and pins are reminders of a time war veteran Allen Megginson would rather forget. "I think that no matter how much time passes, it's really not going to ease the pain any," Megginson told Ivanhoe.
Allen fought in the Iraq war. What he saw and experienced are now memories that haunt him every day.
"I had a real good friend of mine that, he was killed by a sniper, and it happened pretty much in front of me," Megginson recalls. "That was probably the one that got to me the most."
When he came home, Megginson was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He now deals with anxiety, anger, flashbacks and nightmares.
"I can feel that hot air," Megginson describes. "I can smell the smells. It's just like I'm back there. I say, sometimes, the wounds that hurt the most are the ones you can't see."
But what if Megginson could forget those horrible memories? Researchers are now investigating the possibilities. "Every time you remember something, that memory becomes biochemically active again, and when it becomes biochemically active, it can be interfered with," Andre Fenton, Ph.D., neuroscientist and associate professor for the department of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY told Ivanhoe.
After decades of research, Doctor Fenton and colleagues have discovered what they call the memory molecule, "this is the first physical identification of a molecule that is definitively important for storing memory."
In a lab experiment, Fenton manipulated that molecule in the brains of rats. The animals were put on a turntable. One area of the table delivered a mild shock to the foot. "Rats don't like to have a mild foot shock, so they run away from that area," he told Ivanhoe.
But when researchers injected a drug called zip into their brains, the rats go straight to the spot that shocked them. They forgot what they had learned!
"We could always see that the animals could no longer remember to avoid that particular place, but they could learn to avoid the places if they were starting over," Fenton said.
While this research is in animals, investigators from Harvard are studying whether another drug propranolol can weaken the emotional response to memories in humans. In one preliminary trial, the pill "significantly reduced physiological responses" to a traumatic memory in patients with PTSD.
"Things that used to be science fiction are now modern-day reality," Felicia Cohn, Ph.D., director of medical ethics at the University of California, Irvine told Ivanhoe.
But medical ethicist Cohn says there are real concerns about editing memory. "You start changing somebody's memories, you can raise the question of whether or not you're changing their identity in some fundamental way," she explains.
Cohn also says it would be difficult to decide who should get the drug -- and for what circumstances. Even Megginson says he wouldn't want to take a drug to help him forget, "I may have these bad memories, but they make me the person I am today."
He says he tries to focus on the road ahead and maybe one day, he'll leave his most painful wounds in the dust. Researchers are also studying the effects of certain painkillers, anti-nausea drugs, and the abortion drug r-u-486 for memory blocking in animals.
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