We may be taking a step closer to the services offered by Lacuna, Inc in the Jim Carey/Kate Winslet movie, “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
In the movie, Winslet’s Clementine underwent a procedure to remove all memories associated with her romance with Carey’s Joel Barish.
Now, scientists at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn are studying ways that certain memories could be erased by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Researchers have found that a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to the areas of the brain associated with specific types of memory could erase memories by blocking the activity of a substanced the brain needs to retain the information.
Researchers have found that a molecule called PKMzeta can help to stimulate memory production. Clusters of the molecule come together in the brain to help form memories according to the New York Times. By introducing an agent to block the formation of PKMzeta or break up clusters of it, researchers believe they can change or even erase memories.
So far, the experiment has only been done on lab animals, though researchers say they’re now ready to begin trials on human subjects.
“This possibility of memory editing has enormous possibilities and raises huge ethical issues,” said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a neurobiologist at Harvard. “On the one hand, you can imagine a scenario in which a person enters a setting which elicits traumatic memories, but now has a drug that weakens those memories as they come up. Or, in the case of addiction, a drug that weakens the associations that stir craving.”
Researchers have already tried to blunt painful memories and addictive urges using existing drugs; blocking PKMzeta could potentially be far more effective.
Yet any such drug, Dr. Hyman and others argue, could be misused to erase or block memories of bad behavior, even of crimes. If traumatic memories are like malicious stalkers, then troubling memories — and a healthy dread of them — form the foundation of a moral conscience.