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Biotech Science

MIT Finds Cure For Fear 523

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the fear-itself dept.
Doom con runs away writes "MIT biochemists have identified a molecular mechanism behind fear, and successfully cured it in mice, according to an article in the journal Nature Neuroscience. They did this by inhibiting a kinase, an enzyme that change proteins, called Cdk5, which facilitates the extinction of fear learned in a particular context."
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MIT Finds Cure For Fear

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:44AM (#19877629)
    Because I saw some MIT guys talking to GIRLS!
    • by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Monday July 16, 2007 @01:58PM (#19879535)
      Please don't use terms without explaining them! For the benefit of other slashdotters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl [wikipedia.org]
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:45AM (#19877641)
    President Bush introduced a bill this week to eliminate all research funding at MIT.
  • by sqlguy33 (898340) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:46AM (#19877653)
    It is also called Liquid Courage. Drinking enough alcohol leaves me with no fear as well...
  • You know, to turn into your worst fear, then suck it out of you? Dave Lister got that treatment a while ago.
  • How long until (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anarke_Incarnate (733529) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:47AM (#19877667)
    this finds its way into MREs given to soldiers?
    • Bad idea. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Valdrax (32670) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:45PM (#19878577)
      My first knee-jerk response was that this would be combined with propranolol, the drug that suppresses traumatic memories which is intended to stop PTSD but could instead be abused to prevent guilt over atrocities.

      My second thought was of how amazingly boneheaded of an idea administering an anti-fear drug would be in a war zone -- especially for US soldiers carrying an amazingly expensive array of military gear and having had expensive combat training. Soldiers need fear as a survival mechanism. Without it, they'd do amazingly stupid and suicidal things.

      You'd use a drug like this if your army were cannon fodder with poor supplies and training. I could see a use for this for suicide bombers or *maybe* for overrunning positions defended by few soldiers, but that's it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Valdrax (32670)
        My third knee-jerk response is that I should've read the fine article.

        This isn't an anti-fear drug. It's not even a drug. They just found that by genetically engineering mice to have more or less Cdk5 and determined its effects on their response to a floor which had caused them trauma after the trauma had passed. Mice with less Cdk5 got over their fear quickly, and mice with more Cdk5 were terrified to be in a similar situation.

        For all we know, this is how propranolol actually works, though I can't dig u
  • uh oh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leeharris100 (890639) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:47AM (#19877671)
    Why would you want to cure fear? Fear keeps me from giving in to a friend's bet and swallowing a live hamster. But seriously, unless you could target certain fears to help people with crippling phobias, this seems dangerous.
    • Why, it'd be great for the military and terrorists. So now I'm confused: have the terrorists won or not?
      • Re:uh oh... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:00PM (#19877887) Journal

        Why, it'd be great for the military and terrorists.
        sure about that. Fear is a useful biological mechanism, I would expect that soldiers without fear would not be, on the whole, as good as soldiers without it. A healthy dose of caution (based on fear) will save lives -- and for the US at least, minimization of loss of soldiers' lives is a prime determinant of strategy. A lack of fear can lead to foolhardiness, which can endanger not only the fearless soldier, but those around him.

        Terrorists, OTOH, I have no idea. I would imagine the smaller side of any asymmetric war would benefit from fearlessness. Suicide bombers? Definitely. But not all terrorists are suicide bombers -- so would fearlessness benefit, or harm, a terrorist who plants bombs covertly? I'd guess it would limit their effectiveness, since they'd be more likely to take inapproprate risks.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by i_ate_god (899684)
          I don't think a lack of fear is going to make a terrorist more cocky when planting bombs. Removing fear doesn't necessarily remove logic. You have a mission, there are consequences personal or otherwise to the failure of that mission. Logically, those consequences are bad for the over all purpose of the mission. Getting rid of fear may cause you to knowingly inflict more personal damage (suicide bombers), but it won't make you forget that goals have to be achieved.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by erroneus (253617)
          I forget where I read it... it was probably linked from here anyway, but there was some discussion about why suicide bombers are muslim and all that. The bottom-line is polygamy. Polygamy lowers the odds of a young man hooking up and/or settling down with a woman. The odds are good that quite a few of these suicide bombers never had a chance with actually being with a woman in the near future or ever. Combine that with religious mythology and you've got a malleable mind. Promise "you will get laid in t
          • Re:uh oh... (Score:4, Informative)

            by Belacgod (1103921) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:24PM (#19878293)
            You read it here.

            The problem is, very few people in the Islamic world are polygamous anymore. Maybe a few rich Afghans, Sudanese, or Saudis, but they represent a tiny fraction of all Muslims. Polygamy has vanished in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, North Africa, Iran, Indonesia...

            As with most religions, Islamic practice has little to do nowadays with its historical theology. Western writers who only know a little bit about the latter and nothing about the former just make themselves look like idiots.

        • Read the article. This is about extinguishing learned fear, such as post traumatic stress disorder. This is not a drug that controls fear in the present moment. It has absolutely nothing to do with either situation you mention.
    • Re:uh oh... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:54AM (#19877811) Homepage Journal
      You got it. Fear is a good thing. It keeps you from getting killed. Like so many things this could be abused or used to treat real afflictions.
    • Re:uh oh... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dotpavan (829804) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:56AM (#19877831) Homepage
      yes, isnt fear supposed to be an in-built mechanism to prevent us from putting ourselves in dangerous situations (in which others have suffered bad consequences), just like comedy tells us that everything is OK with a false alarm like situation [bbc.co.uk] ["So what I'm arguing is, laughter is nature's false alarm. Why is this useful from an evolutionary standpoint? So what you are doing with this rhythmic stocatto sound of laughter is informing your kin who share your genes, don't waste your precious resources rushing to this person's aid, it's a false alarm everything is OK. OK, so it's nature's OK signal."]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by samkass (174571)
        I don't have a link, but Scientific American had an article a few years back about another use of laughter. Apparently, even when forced laughter allows the brain to hold two opposing concepts at the same time... the experiment used the "is it a vase or is it faces" and "old woman/young woman" pictures, and found that laughing people could see both simultaneously, but other almost always had to flip back and forth.

        Likewise, I'm sure fear has plenty of levels of usefulness. As anyone with migraines or anxi
    • by catbutt (469582)

      this seems dangerous.
      Sure, you think that NOW....but that is only because you haven't had your fear cured.
    • by timster (32400)
      Well, I don't think it's that simple. Fear is not exactly a rational process -- we can be afraid of things for bad reasons or for no reason, because the world is very complex and fear is a fairly simplistic instinct. For many people, it would be a great help if their fear could be brought more under the control of their intelligence.

      Take swallowing a live hamster, for instance; your intelligence should be good enough to prevent that, even if you're not afraid. But if you weren't irrationally afraid of ro
    • by metlin (258108)
      I agree - fear has some definite benefits, but on the other hand, some people suffer from some irrational fears and this could be useful in curing those.

      There was this guy I used to go climbing with who slipped once while doing some trad climbing and has been afraid of heights ever since. Mind you, he did not fall down or even get injured. All he did was take a look down at the ravine below him and freaked out. Ever since, he's stopped climbing and is deathly scared of heights.

      People are scared of some pret
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sesshomaru (173381)
      It was the plot of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series:

      Nothing to Fear [aol.com]

      Jeffrey Combs as the voice of the Scarecrow.

    • by Himring (646324)
      We have nothing to fear but ... oh, wait....
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dvice_null (981029)
      > Why would you want to cure fear? Fear keeps me from giving in to a friend's bet and swallowing a live hamster.

      Isn't that obvious? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_Factor [wikipedia.org]
  • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:47AM (#19877675) Homepage Journal

    Conspiracy theorists believe the funding was provided by a group of cats ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:47AM (#19877685)
    I am terrified at the implications of this!
    • by Tuoqui (1091447) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:50AM (#19877713) Journal
      Dont worry, they can fix that.
    • by DarrylM (170047)
      Heh... this is the first thing I thought of when I read the headline. First Contact was a great movie...

      Data: Captain, I believe I am feeling... anxiety. It is an intriguing sensation. A most distracting...
      Picard: Data, I'm sure it's a fascinating experience, but perhaps you should deactivate your emotion chip for now.
      Data: Good idea, sir.
      [beep]
      Data: Done.
      Picard: Data, there are times that I envy you.
  • Cool! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:48AM (#19877689)
    I hope to see commercials advertising fear-curing pills within the next few years so I can rush to the pharmacy with a prescription. In fact I think we should charge ahead with this and eliminate fear everywhere by putting it in the water with the fluoride. I see no downside or risk!
  • bad? (Score:3, Funny)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:48AM (#19877693)
    How can it be known fear won't be suppressed in similar situations where necessary flight or fight reactions are necessary to survival? oh, and also I for one welcome our new fearless squeaky rodent overlords.
  • Am I the only one reading too much pulp scifi or are there others out there who are also worried about what will happen when one of the fearless genetically modified super-soldiers decides to seek vengence on those who wrought his unnatural life?

    It could be messy.

    Although, it occurs to me that soldiers without fear might die often. I mean, fear is not without its uses.

  • uncertainty and doubt. I have no hope though that a cure will ever be found for stupid.
    • "uncertainty and doubt. I have no hope though that a cure will ever be found for stupid."

      The fundies already have prior art on "curing uncertainty and doubt." You "just gotta believe!" As for curing "stupid" ... do you really think any government or religious group would allow that?

  • ...am afraid that we're doomed.
  • That this scares the crap out of?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:50AM (#19877721)
    ...the Darwin Awards suddenly recieves a flood of new entries.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:50AM (#19877727)
    Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble, they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.

    - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

  • by jgoemat (565882)
    No more little death that brings total obliteration. I no longer have to let it pass over me and through me!
  • by evilpenguin (18720) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:51AM (#19877735)
    In all seriousness, what's the half life of this compound in the mice? I realize this is a long way from human use, but this seems like a damned foolish invention. You might think, for example, that you want soldiers without fear, but I would argue that a fearless soldier is soon a dead soldier. And I think even in everyday life this would be a dangerous state. Fear is a very primitive emotion and all creatures (well, certainly all mammals) seem to have it in varying degrees. In so many places it has a clear survival function. I'm not sure I'm keen to see a population messing about with such fundamental emotions.
    • by Ogive17 (691899) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:35PM (#19878451)
      You're assuming fear creates rational decisions, which we can probably all agree isn't always the case. I'll admit in the case of a solider, a little fear probably helps them with some decisions... and on the flip side, fear could keep them from doing something vital to the mission and endangering the lives of everyone else around them.

      Fears aren't just life threatening events, it could be a solider is scared of heights but needs to repel down the side of a building. They could be walking through the jungle with an extreme case of arachniphobia and unable to keep aware because he's pre-occupied with not walking through a spider web.

      If this did ever become a viable product, I would hope for the sake of humanity it would only target irrational fears (spiders, darkness.. etc).. to be without any fear whatsoever... would we even be human anymore?
  • Just keep repeating "fear is the mindkiller" till you realize that you have control of your brain. It really does work!

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:52AM (#19877749)
    Fear is a useful mechanism in preventing humans from doing things that have potentially bad consequences for the person.
    • Some people are afraid to leave thier houses.
    • by RingDev (879105) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:13PM (#19878127) Homepage Journal
      And I share the concerns about the abuse of this potential drug.

      But there are mental illnesses that deal with crippling fears, where extreme fear of seemingly insignificant things can prevent a person from interacting with society in a meaningful way. For those people, this drug could bring relief, and a chance for a normal life. But control is paramount, and I'd need to see a LOT of clinical trial and years in the open market before it gets into military use. Fear will keep you alive on a battle field, but crippling fear will get your unit killed. Not only that, but being in a war zone isn't 24x7 guns blazing and shells falling. It's minutes of near death experiences followed by minutes, hours, days, even weeks of no activity. Knowing that at any second an explosion could rip you to shreds, or small arms fire could light you up. That is the stress that kills, the constant fear tearing at the back of your mind. Some people have even described the start of an attack as a relief, as they no longer do they have to sit in anticipation of the attack. If this drug could help prevent soldier from locking up in high stress moments, and relieve the pressure from the tedium of war, then I could have a solid benefit for the military.

      If on the other hand, it takes away their fear of bullets, reprisal, and other control mechanisms... then it is nothing we want to give to anyone with a gun.

      -Rick
    • Fear is a useful mechanism in preventing humans from doing things that have potentially bad consequences for the person.

      Fear is a useful mechanism in preventing humans from doing things that have potentially bad consequences for the powers that be.

      But on a more serious not, fear does prevent humans from doing things they have no little understanding of which may lead to potentially have "good" consequences.

      I mean what if Christopher Columbus has been too scared to travel to the new world?
      What if NASA had be
  • I guess I can understand some rare and extreme cases where this could be used in positive ways. There are some people who are unable to function in their daily lives due to irrational fears. However, it seems like this sort of thing could be abused, and that disturbs me a bit. I hope people consider that fear, anxiety, and angst are appropriate responses to many situations. I don't know if it's a good idea to take these things lightly.

  • I'll stick with good old Dutch Courage thank you very much!
  • Social Anxiety (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:53AM (#19877785) Homepage
    Aside from treatments for shell-shocked war vets, I wonder if this could be used to treat more mundane fears as well such as phobias and social anxiety. That could be a boon to many, many people; social anxiety may sound wussy, but it is a misery-inducing and debilitating condition.
  • Professional athletes will no doubt find this new drug most useful, particularly in the more violent or fear-inducing sports. They can add it to their pharmacopoeia of performance enhancers.

    The real winners will be the sports fans, of course, as athletics is taken to even higher levels,
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:57AM (#19877839) Homepage
    Fear is what keeps us from doing dangerous things. Fear is an important part of our survival system. Targeting contextual fears could be therapeutically useful, but I think "cure" is the wrong word. The ultimate word on fear, though, comes from Jack Handy:

    Fear can sometimes be a useful emotion. For instance, say you were an astronaut on the moon and you fear your partner had been turned into Dracula. The next time he goes out for moon pieces, WHAM!, you just slam the door behind him and blast off. He might call you on the radio and say he's not Dracula, but you just say, "Think again, Batman!"
  • by Bullfish (858648) on Monday July 16, 2007 @11:59AM (#19877873)
    Because it take no courage to do something you are not afraid of doing (or saying)...

  • In related news, gangs of emboldened mice terrorize cats in Massachusetts neighborhoods. One cat, who preferred to remain anonymous, puts it in his own words, "So I was just standin' there, right, snappin' my fingers and hangin' out, OK? And these freaks in white gloves start beatin' me up! I was like, 'Hey it's cool dudes!' but they kept sayin' somethin' about 72 cheeses in Florida, or somethin'." Said cat is currently in "Groovy" condition in a nearby hospital.

  • "the extinction of fear learned in a particular context."

    Fear learned in a particular context? That makes this actually useful: for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Attacks, and Phobias.

    Something that eliminated fear indiscriminately would clearly be problematic, since fear is a key part of our self-preservation instinct. I haven't RTFA, but from that sentence, it sounds like this could potentially be used more selectively, to cure debilitating fear that comes up in contexts where it is not helpf

  • by Control Group (105494) * on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:03PM (#19877973) Homepage
    Everyone seems to be hopping on the "but fear is useful!" bandwagon - but I'm not sure it is. Fear, the emotion, is an instinctive reaction to danger, whether that danger is real or simply perceived. I don't see that it's necessarily bad to replace the gut response with a rational response.

    That is, I doubt the drug will remove awareness of danger, simply the emotional reaction to it. While supersoldiers leap to every SF fan's mind, imagine what this could do for everyone who's got any kind of irrational fear. Fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of talking to girls, the whole list of phobias. Even in situations where fear is justified - wartime combatants, for example - I don't know that fear is helpful in comparison to the ability to rationally assess threats.

    Regardless, in society at large most people most of the time aren't afraid of real threats, they're afraid of imagined (or at least, disproportionately perceived) threats.

    Besides which, even the real threats faced by a significant percentage of people in modern industrialized society strike me as predominantly not susceptible to the "fight, flight, or freeze" response.
    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:17PM (#19878193)
      Gut response is fast. Thinking is slow. When you're dead to react rationally, it doesn't help much. Yeah, it might misfire 9 times out of 10. That one occasion saves your life when it is not a misfire.

      The "breakthrough" is about blocking fear not about replacing it with another mechanism.

      On a related did you know that we live around half a second in the PAST? That is the delay of the mind. Our brain fakes the memories so we don't notice it practically, but there is a reason why subconscious or gut responses exist.
    • by Moraelin (679338)
      While I don't claim to be some military genius, I do happen to be reserve sergeant. It means that, for better or worse, in case of a serious war I would very likely get some summary training and a bunch of young men to live to our deaths. Make what you will out of that.

      And it scares me to think I'd get to lead some guys who take this kind of stuff. There's this saying, "never share a foxhole with someone braver than you are."

      The folks who are all brave, and the stuff of heroic hero tales and propaganda, are
  • RTFA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kiick (102190) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:09PM (#19878059)
    I see from all the comments that nobody actually read the article.

    The 'cure' doesn't eliminate any and all fear. It doesn't address situational fear at all.
    What it 'cures' is LEARNED fear responses. It's specific application to, for example, soldiers would be
    for PTSD.

    And even if there was a way to get read of all fear reactions, you'd still have a BRAIN and the ability
    to choose not to do things that you reason are too risky.

    Seriously, read the article. It's interesting.

    Sheesh.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hawkfish (8978)

      And even if there was a way to get read of all fear reactions, you'd still have a BRAIN and the ability
      to choose not to do things that you reason are too risky.

      You should read a book called Descartes' Error by neroscientist Antonio D'Amasio. The book is all about how we use emotions to facilitate reasoning and has several examples of patients with the "lack of rections" you describe all of whom are incapable of making even simple decisions like when their next appointment should be. They disappear down th

  • by tnk1 (899206) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:14PM (#19878147)
    Fear is actually a very powerful disabler when it gets out of control. Many phobias and behaviors exist because an irrational fear has been instilled in a person of some situation or thing. Removing that fear mechanism just long enough to allow the person to act against their otherwise disabling fear would probably allow for significant recovery for people who are disabled by those fears.

    Note, of course, I'm talking about irrational fears. Irrational fears of normal situations occurring in phobias is one thing, "rational" fear responses is another thing entirely. You don't want to make super soldiers or even people who are completely unafraid of certain social situations. We know what we call people who tend to be unafraid of more rational things: children or criminally insane.

    We don't want to have to child-proof ourselves or society if fearlessness gets out of control. When people are fearless, they also tend to be somewhat more aggressive and even in a soldier (especially in a soldier(?)) this is a really bad idea. You need to have a healthy respect for your enemy if you plan on coming home or even living long enough to attain an objective.

    On the other hand, you may be able to innoculate your troops against the noise and confusion of battle by controlled exposure to those things while having fear removed. The idea would be to allow the soldier to experience the events without fear, and therefore see how proper execution of tactics at the right time allows them to actually win (and be alive at the end of it). Its been said that even the most elite troops in battle only fire 20-30% of the time. The rest of the time, they are head down trying to stay alive. Considering that the enemy is firing at the same rate (or less), the fact is that battles actually have fairly little shooting going on within a certain amount of time. A unit trained to be able to fire even 40% of the time could win battles by simply having enough suppressive fire to be able to maneuver and surround an enemy position. That is, assuming that the enemy is not also trained in the same manner.

    Our fears are a useful evolutionary advantage, but as evolution is a slow process, sometimes our fears cover situations that we expected to deal with in our distant past. "Fearlessness" is a bad thing, but perhaps "tuning" our fears so that they cover realistic modern situations and at the same time, treating rogue phobias would be an excellent application of this idea.

    I just hope that whatever it is that does this can't be stuck in some drug that could be sold on the street someday... that could spell real trouble. As with anything with powerful potential, its uncontrolled usage could spell disaster.
  • by Stefanwulf (1032430) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:19PM (#19878215)
    As I read this article, it isn't about making something fearless or preventing fear...it's more about increasing the rate at which a learned fear response decays in the absence of reinforcement. Essentially, the brain has built in mechanisms to "cure" fear on its own, given enough time without reinforcement of that particular fear. Inhibition of this enzyme--oddly enough one linked with plasticity and neural development--makes that process easier/faster.

    If I understand correctly, then they are right in saying this would be potentially wonderful for treating cases of PTSD where the fear response does not significantly decrease even at points in time far removed from the initial trauma, but I don't think we have to worry about inhibition of this enzyme erasing people's ability to feel fear or leading to fear-based weapons systems. Those things are almost certainly possible (lesions on the amygdala are thought to tame animals by destroying their ability to feel fear), but I don't think they'll appear as a result of this study.
  • by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis&gmail,com> on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:23PM (#19878275) Homepage
    fear is good. It stops us from doing stupid things.

    Like posting without RTFA.

    Tom
  • by dbolger (161340) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:29PM (#19878349) Homepage
    ...I just use my Tremor Totem. Easy :D
  • by Toreo asesino (951231) on Monday July 16, 2007 @12:33PM (#19878419) Journal
    It just doesn't last very long, gives you a hangover the next morning, and makes ugly women look like supermodels.

There must be more to life than having everything. -- Maurice Sendak

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