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 Could A Zap To The Brain Derail Destructive Impulses?

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PostSubject: Could A Zap To The Brain Derail Destructive Impulses?   Mon Dec 18, 2017 11:34 pm

Picture this: While reaching for the cookie jar — or cigarette or bottle of booze or other temptation — a sudden slap denies your outstretched hand. When the urge returns, out comes another slap.

Now imagine those "slaps" occurring inside the brain, protecting you in moments of weakness.

In a report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford neuroscientists say they've achieved this sort of mind-reading in binge-eating mice. They found a telltale pattern of brain activity that comes up seconds before the animals start to pig out — and delivering a quick zap to that part of the brain kept the mice from overindulging.

Whether this strategy could block harmful impulses in people remains unclear. For now the path seems promising. The current study used a brain stimulation device already approved for hard-to-treat epilepsy. And based on the new findings, a clinical trial testing this off-the-shelf system for some forms of obesity could start as early as next summer, says Casey Halpern, the study's leader and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. He thinks the approach could also work for eating disorders and a range of other addictive or potentially life-threatening urges.

As a physician-researcher, Halpern specializes in deep brain stimulation (DBS), a surgical treatment in which battery-powered implants send electrical pulses to brain areas where signals go awry.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved DBS therapy for movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, tremor and dystonia — usually in people who haven't responded well to medications. Occasionally DBS is a last-resort treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Another study published Monday in PNAS suggests that DBS could help boost memory and other research is exploring its use for substance abuse and other reward-seeking behaviors.

Years ago, the Stanford team developed a mouse model to test if DBS could curb overeating. Granted, mice don't normally gorge themselves. Yet if offered fattier, tastier chow each day for just an hour, within 10 days the mice realize if they "don't eat this now, that guy's coming back to take it away," Halpern says. So the animals learn to binge.

But when the researchers applied DBS stimulation to a part of the brain's reward circuit known as the nucleus accumbens, the mice quit stuffing themselves.
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