In the 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a couple played by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey undergo a procedure called "targeted memory erasure" to remove the painful memories of their failed relationship. But now it seems this is no longer the stuff of science fiction films.
Scientists from the University of Puerto Rico have discovered a drug that helps numb the pain of a painful memory by flooding the brain with feelings of contentment, the UKs Daily Mail reported.
This new medicine could one day help to cure phobia sufferers, relieve soldiers of horrific battlefield memories and allow accident victims to leave the incident behind them.
The drug, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is thought to trigger the growth of connections between cells in the part of the brain which deals with phobias.
In the study, which was published in the journal Science, mice were given electric shocks while a loud noise was played. Over time the mice learned to associate the sound with the shocks and eventually the noise alone was enough to paralyse them with fear.
When the mice were given the drug BDNF, however, they were no longer frightened by the sound. The drug did not erase the painful memory completely, but created a sense of safety, making it easier to cope with.
BDNF is a naturally-produced compound in the brain and experiments in rats have found that those with a shortage have greater difficultly in erasing bad memories.
The failure to overwrite fear is thought to contribute to post traumatic-stress disorder and other psychological problems.
"Many lines of evidence implicate BDNF in mental disorders," said Dr Thomas Insel of the US National Institute of Mental Health, which financed the research.
"This work supports the idea that medications could be developed to augment the effects of BDNF, providing opportunities for pharmaceutical treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders and other anxiety disorders."
The researchers will now look into the possibility of creating such a pill, though critics warn that painful memories allow us to learn from past mistakes.
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