Aiming laser light at the portion of the brain associated with impulse control could ease cocaine addiction, according to a new study in rats.
"When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone," researcher Antonello Bonci says in a press release.
It may sound strange--and many experimental treatments that have worked in mice and rats don't work in humans--but scientists are working on the critical next step to find whether this could work for people, too.
Previous research had suggested that that problems in the prefrontal cortex are linked to compulsive drug use, but hadn't demonstrated that they caused drug addiction.
In the new study, researchers from institutions in Maryland and California offered rats levers that, when pressed, would give them infusions of cocaine. After more than eight weeks of the free coke, however, the researchers starting giving the rats a shock in the foot alongside the drug. For some rats, the shock made them reduce their lever-pressing. Others soldiered on, however, in spite of the consequences.
The researchers found that prelimbic cortex neurons in the consequences-be-damned rats were less responsive than the corresponding neurons in shock-fearing rats and in rats who had never had cocaine. The cocaine-taking, shock-fearing rats had some impairments, too, but not as much. These findings showed that cocaine use caused reduced responsiveness in the prelimbic cortex, the researchers wrote in a paper published today in the journal Nature.
The researchers then began stimulating shock-resistant rats' brains with laser light. (Brain cells don't normally fire in response to lasers, but researchers genetically engineered these rats' brains to do so.) The laser treatment reduced how often the rats pressed their cocaine levers.
The same research team is now planning a clinical trial on humans, using a related technique. A search of the National Institutes of Health's ClinicalTrials.gov database reveals that it is one of two apparently active, mid- and early-stage clinical trials of the related technique, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, for cocaine craving and dependence.
Doctors cannot aim lasers in human patients' brains--nor can they genetically engineer us to respond to lasers--so transcranial magnetic stimulation works on the brain using tools placed outside of the scalp that stimulate activity in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex. Transcranial magnetic stimulation currently used as a treatment for depression that doesn't respond to drugs or therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Thinking about this in the context of recent detection of electronic waves of information flow through the brain at different frequencies as opposed to just direct electro/chemical connections as well as with laser cooling in which laser light photons interrupt the surface plasmonics of a semiconductor thus slowing kinetic energy (and instantly dropping temperature by dozens of degrees), could this be an example of lased photons interrupting the surface plasmonics of the area such that transmission of information is interrupted in the same way that transmission of heat was interrupted via laser cooling?
I don't know... shooting people with lasers seems like a decent way to stop their drug use. And even if it doesn't work, you could use it to raise money. Charge people $10 to zap a coke addict.
Why are we always looking for ways to bypass the consequences of our actions? Couldn't this money have been better spent on cancer research?
The people in the US spend enough money on weight loss products each year to feed every starving person in the world? Actions have consequences. Deal with them.
Good points. The research money could definitely have been used for more mandatory worldly problems. But drug addiction is definitely another huge worldly problem. So helping the world end drug abuse is never a bad thing.
Even highly addicted rats will return to normal when put in a natural environment, even if the cocaine is freely available. This was shown in the "Rat Park" experiments of the 60's, and debunks the animal model of compulsive addiction.
We must understand that seemingly addictive behavior is a choice, even in humans, and therefore no amount of medical or psychological treatment will help unless it recognizes this simple fact. The person will not stop using until they want to stop. In many cases addiction is a form of brainwashing ("I am powerless") and in some cases it is pure fakery/sociopathy.
Just think about how many people are involved in the „Treatment“ of addiction. There is the private sector and there is the court ordered variety. Not to mention the funding for the research and also the “medication” that goes with the “treatment”.
If the approach was taken that the self destructive behavior is a product of a lack of will power and not having anything better to do with ones time, a significant shift in the money allocation for this subject would be quite likely. This would greatly offend the numerous individuals who have a personal self interest in seeing that the “You are powerless and need therapy” perspective towards self destructive behavior not only continues but is expanded.