Tatiana Zhelezniakova interviews Dr Damien Brown who recounts the challenges of medical humanitarianism, working for MSF and returning to First World medicineWritten by Tatiana Zhelezniakova on 19th April 2017
Forgetting yourself: deleting memories may cure PTSD
As the number of PTSD cases rise, the need for a newer, more effective treatment increases. But is memory modification the way to go? Tatiana Zhelezniakova investigates
Nostalgia is such a warm word. It brings to mind a sweet homesickness, a Marcel Proust’s madeleine-type longing for childhood. It is certainly a far cry from its 1678 medical meaning, signifying Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD has been described for aeons, with references scattered from Ancient Greece to Henry IV’s madness in Shakespeare’s works. Terminology, however, remained evasive for years, wandering through 80+ terms such as ‘railway spine’, ‘shell shock’, ‘soldier’s heart’ and many more. The current term started being more widely used in the 1970s, finally being entered into the DSM-III (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980.
“Many problems arise from drugs such as antidepressants and hypnotics, largely due to inefficacy and/or addiction
Considering the root of all the symptoms is the traumatic experience itself, it makes sense that researchers turned to the idea of amending or eliminating the original memories. This avenue has been explored over the last few years from many angles including modification of malleable memory reconsolidation – a process which occurs to reinforce negative connotations of memories. However, previous research focused mainly on altering blocking neuronal communication, rather than the culprit neurones themselves.
“The ultimate aim would be to develop a drug to target and inactivate the ‘highlighted’ neurones, to remove the traumatic component of the formed memory
The worry is the ethics of opening the floodgates to memory modification. Technique knowledge and control will have to be rigorous to prevent misuse of the treatment. No matter how much someone will want to forget a bad break up, or the loss of a loved one, this is an incredibly dangerous road to go down. However, if responsibly used, this could be the answer we’ve been looking for to truly help PTSD patients recover for good.