Aussie Scientists Have Figured Out A Way To Stop Our Memory-Based Fears
Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered a way to modify our DNA to help inhibit fears generated by experience-based memories.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and could be used as a breakthrough treatment for sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Doctor Xian Li, who worked with lead Professor Timothy Bredy on the researcher, told 10 daily that while some fears are necessary to keep us away from danger, others can inhibit our lifestyle.
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The research conducted by Dr Li and the team focused on fears generated by experienced-based memories -- meaning the fear has to have arrived by way of experience.
"Being bitten by a dog is a great example," Dr Li said. "From that experience, you might develop a fear of dogs. So, in the lab we have worked to remove, or rather, inhibit that memory."
To do this, explained Dr Li, the team needed to switch on a chemical attached to our DNA which would then turn on a specific chemical related to our memories.
"Turning on this chemical will then ignite the genes which operate to switch on a system we call 'fear extinction memories'", Dr Li said.
Basically, there are a variety of emotional switches that cause memory formations and we are trying to understand how the memory is stored in the brain.
What Is Fear Extinction Memories?
Confused? Don't be. Dr Li explains that the chemical responsible for these fear extinction memories work to counter-balance fear by the creation of new non-fearful memories.
"Fear extinction memories act almost like a paintbrush, in that they paint over the original memory," he said.
Dr Li said that while at this stage researchers aren't sure if memories can be "100 percent erased".
"But, we can disassociate someone from them," he said. "For example, when soldiers come back from the battlefield and they have been exposed to trauma overseas -- they are not in the same war environment in Australia, but they still suffer from memories associated with that environment and can become sensitive to things like loud sounds."
Dr Li is, of course, referring to those suffering from PTSD -- a condition, he hopes the discovery will one day alleviate.
Would A PTSD Sufferer Get This Done?
Others might, but not former Australian soldier Ben Farinazzo.
Farinazzo suffers from PTSD brought about as a result of his experience being among the first troops deployed on the ground in East Timor.
But, as he tells 10 daily, while he is supportive of "any advances in science and medicine that can help in the early detection and treatment of PTSD" he is wary of deleting memories all together.
"It was only through understanding and integrating the experience that I suffered into my current life that I was able to learn from it," he said.
It’s important to experience the full the extent of life -- the highs and the lows.
Farinazzo explained that if we "start to push away emotions such as grief, anger and sadness then you also start to push away love, joy and happiness."
"We need to embrace all those memories and reconcile the wonder of being alive," he said.
Feature Image: Getty