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Medicine Shark Science

Firing a Laser Into Your Brain Could Help Beat a Drug Addiction 156

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-re-arrange-me-till-I'm-sane dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex in the human brain is thought to play a key role in drug addiction, and researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse wanted to see if manipulating cells there had a positive or negative impact on that addiction. They got some rats addicted to cocaine but not before loading them up with light sensitive proteins called rhodopsins that were placed in their prefrontal cortex, attaching to the neurons there. By shining a tuned laser light on to the prefrontal cortex, it was possible to activate and deactivate the cells. By turning them on with the laser, the addictive behavior of the rats was removed. Turning them off, even in non-addicted rats, saw the addictive behavior return or introduced."
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Firing a Laser Into Your Brain Could Help Beat a Drug Addiction

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  • by Divebus (860563) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:36AM (#43365833)

    Could also cure breathing.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:17AM (#43366201)

      Just looked at the paper and...Where is the scatter plot between lever presses and cocaine infusions??? NATURE EDITORS, DEMAND TO SEE THE ACTUAL DATA AND NOT JUST AVERAGES. Put it in the supplements if it is too complicated for the normal audience.

      • Why is this modded down?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Because it's not just a lame attempt at a joke, but a valid scientific query.

          Most of the proper scientists abandoned slashdot years ago, though. It's interesting to go back 10 years or so and compare the quality of the posts to what we have today.

          • by Ash-Fox (726320)

            Most of the proper scientists abandoned slashdot years ago, though. It's interesting to go back 10 years or so and compare the quality of the posts to what we have today.

            I am afraid I cannot accept that information on just face value. Please provide the study you used so we can critique the results properly.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              A simple CITATION NEEDED would have sufficed. Get off my lawn.

            • IF you've been here for more than 10yrs you wouldn't need any proof. You'd of lived it and now be sad because of it.
              • by Ash-Fox (726320)

                IF you've been here for more than 10yrs

                I have less digits than you.

                you wouldn't need any proof.

                If I was approaching this scientifically, I would.

                • While I don't have fewer digits than you, I do have a hell of a lot smaller number.
                  I think the GP is right, although I haven't done a real study, either. Then there used to be reasoned scientific debates and discussions in just just about every story. Sure, there were troll posts, oft repeated memes about Natalie Portman and hot grits, but now we just get goatse, MyCleanPC spam, and stupid, rambling shit by apk that goes on for pages of unintelligible, psychotic nonsense.

        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday April 05, 2013 @05:04AM (#43366647) Journal
          Redundant is appropriate, by definition the raw data is redundant after it has been properly analyzed, by definition a published paper is a "proper" analysis. It may be wrong but if it's the only analysis then by definition it is the best analysis we have. Einstein's famous 1905 paper was 3 pages long and had zero references, it was quickly recognized as a work of uncommon genius by other physicists.

          The first thing they teach you in statistics is to create a scatter plot and just eyeball it for a one of several standard curves that MIGHT fit, the next step is averages (or some other metric) to see if your guess holds up to scrutiny. Thing is, eye-balling is not evidence and publishing only the calculated curve is normal practice. I don't have a Nature account so I can't easily confirm/deny the AC's claim that the raw data is unavailable (ironically because the AC did not publish his raw data). However since this looks like government funded research I think it's more likely the AC just eye-balled the paper and missed it.

          Besides all that, a real scientist wouldn't bitch and moan if they couldn't find the raw data, they would just contact the author and ask politely, if that didn't work they would run their own experiments. At the end of the day the scientific way to overturn the results from one experiment is run one or more independent experiments that convincingly refute the original results.

          To paraphrase one of the best science teachers to ever walk the earth - "The key to science is that if your beautifully presented, leather bound, iron-clad logic disagrees with experiments, it's wrong". - Feynman [youtube.com]
          • Great video, thanks for link.

            A comment on your post, if you have the stats ability & tools, it's fun & quick to check the raw data.
            Certainly cheaper and faster than trying to reproduce the experimental data.
            I've found a few problems with the data, and/or in the analysis in my time; most are due to simple ignorance, (not all 'real scientists' *gasp* are stats experts), or falling into the trap of 'finding what you are looking for'.
            Granted peer review is supposed to catch this, but I wonder how many g

    • Could also cure breathing.

      Been done [jneurosci.org] many [sciencemag.org] times [jneurosci.org]

    • Which. technically, solves the addiction problem.
      Brilliant!
    • It sure beats the previous popular method of firing a 9mm projectile into the brain.
    • by DirtyLiar (796951)

      I can see a whole new branch of science comming out of Answering this simple question:

      "What things, when shot into the brain, do NOT eliminate addiction?"

  • Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:37AM (#43365835)

    The original article clearly was not read. These rats had their genome changed to have more rhodopsins in their prefrontal cortex. This will not happen with humans in advance of any drug addiction issues (it would have to be done with the sperm/egg?). tldr; not going to happen.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The rhodopsins just let you turn the cells on remotely with a laser.

      We can do this in humans, we just have to drill a hole in their face and wire 'em up.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        We can do this in humans, we just have to drill a hole in their face and wire 'em up.

        How does this differ from Electroconvulsive therapy?

        • Electroconvulsive therapy is broad, and even its most targeted implemented sends electricity to places it doesn't need to go. It must also pass through tissues that have no therapeutic reason to be exposed to electric current.

          An internally-mounted system could be far more precise; possibly even as good as this experiment.

          The best analogy I can come up with is: ECT is like trying to chisel a sculpture with a jackhammer.

        • The easy answer is precision.

          Electroconvulsive therapy is the mental / medical equivilent of pounding on the TV to "fix" it, and is a last ditch treatment used when the simptoms cannot be treated any other way.

          It, as the name implies, creates a seizure in the paitent by applying voltages across rather wide areas of the brain. Originally uncontrolled voltages (because it came through skin, bone, etc) into, nearly random brain tissues (because it was applied in ignorance, through multiple barriers, with no gu

    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by durrr (1316311) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:43AM (#43366097)

      Optogenetics (as the technique is more commonly called) can be 'installed' with gene therapy vectors in adult mammals, the technique can be used for both activating and silencing cells.

      It have not been tried in humans due the excessive caution around everything that is gene therapy, along with the requirement for some mildly invasive neurosurgery.

      • And the award for most horrifically insane misinterpretation of an optogenetics paper goes to... Geek.com!

        Based on actually skimming the paper, I would guess that the kind of excitation they're doing is probably safe in humans, although likely to cause interesting sensations.

        Also, the blood-brain barrier makes it rather hard to perform gene therapy on the human nervous system, doesn't it?

        • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:20AM (#43366207)

          Gene therapy is just hard in general. The exact effect of a virus is unpredictable, it'll only alter a small number of cells at best and will likely kill a lot more in the attempt, or turn them cancerous. It isn't even out of clinical trial yet. The blood-brain barrier shouldn't pose any difficulty though: Simply inject directly into CSF and bypass it entirely.

          • Thanks for the update. I work with microbe ecology (metagenomics) most of the time, so it's hard to keep up on the actual neat parts of biology in humans.
          • by durrr (1316311)

            Gene therapy is not particularly hard, and there's clinical trials and decades old cases where it have had success. Why is this myth propagated?
            Did the major fuckup and misconduct in the Jesse Gelsinger case really have that much publicity?

            Though I guess, every religious nut, moral-code internet warrior, environmentalist nutcase and anti-GMO opinionist would of course latch onto this outlier case and present it as a rule rather than exception, because some delusion of purity is more important than saving an

            • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Niedi (1335165) on Friday April 05, 2013 @06:24AM (#43366885)

              Gene therapy is not particularly hard, and there's clinical trials and decades old cases where it have had success. Why is this myth propagated? Did the major fuckup and misconduct in the Jesse Gelsinger case really have that much publicity?

              Though I guess, every religious nut, moral-code internet warrior, environmentalist nutcase and anti-GMO opinionist would of course latch onto this outlier case and present it as a rule rather than exception, because some delusion of purity is more important than saving and improving lives.

              Disclaimer: I work in neuroscience and have used viral transfection quite a lot.

              Myth? It's not trivial to get the infectous titer and purity of the virus right and it's even harder (read: almost impossible) to predict the exact expression levels that the virus will cause in an actual brain. Much less if such a potential overexpression of a non-native protein will mess up regular cell trafficking/function. Even if the protein is thought to be harmless (as is the case with Channelrhodopsin or Halorhodopsin), the sheer fact that the cell now has to produce, store and process large numbers of something it usually doesn't have can cause problems and take resources away from the normal function. Plus any virus that will stably integrate into the genome can cause all kinds of fuck up down the road since you don't know WHERE it will integrate and what other function it might overwrite.

              Don't get me wrong, it is interesting, it is potentially very beneficial but I'd still be cautious when applying it in the brain (as opposed to applying it in muscle or skin cells) since adult neurogenesis isn't really happening much...

              • by durrr (1316311)

                Adult myogenesis in skeletal muscles isn't really happening much either.
                As for integration into the genome, I was under the impression that you can actually chose the place in the genome it would integrate in, but that this is mostly irrelevant as adenoviral vectors are preferred over lentiviral ones.

                • by Niedi (1335165)

                  Adult myogenesis in skeletal muscles isn't really happening much either. As for integration into the genome, I was under the impression that you can actually chose the place in the genome it would integrate in, but that this is mostly irrelevant as adenoviral vectors are preferred over lentiviral ones.

                  True, but I would say that a few lost muscle cells are less problematic than a few neurons lost in the wrong part of the brain. AFAIK there is no reliable way to control the site of lentiviral integration. Plus, purifying lenti properly is nasty, the stuff can be either quite neurotoxic or not infectious at all if something goes wrong during that step.
                  Recombinant Adeno Associated Virus is much less problematic, it's dead simple to manufacture and only the potential protein overload problem remains (and in

              • by Lehk228 (705449)
                so what you are saying is that it has the potential to turn out like resident evil?
                • by Niedi (1335165)

                  so what you are saying is that it has the potential to turn out like resident evil?

                  No, I was thinking of something still lethal but less freaky: cancer. Plus, even if one of the patients goes insane for whatever strange one-in-a-billion chance, it's not really infectious unless he's still capable of drilling a hole into your skull and injecting a tiny amount of purified virus into precisely the correct area of the brain (think micrometer precision). So no zombie apocalypse there, sorry.

    • Yes but it's mandatory to add the tag "may cure drug addiction" - or some other socially useful claim - to any research involving the brain. That way you get media coverage and a better chance of funding.
  • by Gumbercules!! (1158841) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:38AM (#43365843)
    Would work for sure.... probably want to carefully define "cure" however.
  • by m_chan (95943)
    "I don't know where you get your delusions, laser brain." - Leia Well, now we know Han was trying to kick and lasers were his methadone. .. And, from the footer on /. right now.. "It's easier to take it apart than to put it back together. -- Washlesky"
  • by Skapare (16644) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:57AM (#43365941) Homepage

    ... a use for my Wicked Laser. Oh wait, which one should I use? Teh green one? Teh blue one?

    • Ohhhhh... colors....

    • by JTsyo (1338447)
      well the path of least resistance to get light to the brain is the optic nerve. You might want to mount the laser on a stand first, this is brain surgery after all.
  • Addicts will be able to experience a split second of addiction-free bliss before the laser-bearing shark eats their head..

  • Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by no-body (127863) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:04AM (#43365975)
    Lobotomy was used once as a remedy for many things...

    Folks changed after that. Some think to the better for society.

    Depends on perspective.
  • Addiction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekymachoman (1261484) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:06AM (#43365989)

    So, this might be an end to nicotine/cigarettes ?

    I'm just mentioning it. Since people obviously think that "drug addiction" means "cocaine/heroine addiction".
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substance_dependence#Addictive_potential [wikipedia.org]

    How many people are cocaine/heroin addicts and how many are nicotine addicts ?

    • by game kid (805301)

      Also, that pesky "alcohol" thing.

    • We may never know! It all depends on who sets the NIH funding agenda and who has deep pockets. Cocaine addiction seems to be the primary focus of most addiction research, presumably because the effect is so sudden and there's no one to lobby against its prohibition.
      • by Yomers (863527)
        Because if you would have a lab rats, what would you rather give them - pure medical cocaine or nicotine? considering that you can save some of this for yourselve?
      • by Hartree (191324)

        It's more than just the political reasons. Cocaine is a pretty direct and uncomplicated way to manipulate a dopamine pathway like the reward system.
        Heroin and alcohol have more complex modes of action to hit the reward system. When you're still trying to work out the pathway and its dynamics you want to avoid complicating effects.

        It's sort of the lab rat of addictions to study.

        • That's what I meant by "the effect is so sudden," yes.
          • by Hartree (191324)

            "That's what I meant by "the effect is so sudden," yes."

            Yeah, I figured you knew with your bio background. Just wasn't as clear to the general reader that there are good reasons for using cocaine over other less regulated substances.

            I ran into this one here on Slashdot before when there was a lot of laughter over a study giving cocaine to bees and watching their dance behavior.

            It sounds kinda silly, but for what they were doing, it was a pretty direct route to what they wanted which was modulating some of t

    • by fishybell (516991)
      Unfortunately, I say the answer is quite likely yes, and probably better than it would treat drug addiction.
      Unfortunately, as people aren't rats — and probably the best thing I took away from rehab — you don't have a drug problem, you have drug solution to your person problems. People use drugs to turn off their shitty lives. Of course, drugs lead to shitty lives and the cycle continues, but fixing the "I'm not addicted to drug X" problem won't fix the fact that people relapse after years and y
    • Not a chance. You know how much money the tobacco industry pumps into politicians each year?

    • by markdavis (642305)

      >"I'm just mentioning it. Since people obviously think that "drug addiction" means "cocaine/heroine addiction".

      That's because there isn't much of an altered-state "high" with nicotine or caffeine. Although they can be addictive (especially nicotine), being "on" them doesn't really alter perception, warp senses, and severely impair judgement, memory, motor skills, productivity, cognition, etc, like being high on alcohol, cocaine, heroine, marijuana, meth, LSD, PCP, etc.

      With nicotine, there is just being

    • Anybody else notice that a good chunk of that article's references are articles by a Scientology front group?
      • Bah, ignore me. I misread; only the section on MDMA references a Scientology article. That part was still bullshit, though.
    • Where I live it is 1 in 384 people for Heroin and I guarantee the number is higher than that.
  • Firing lasers while stoned - whoa man!

  • by Nyder (754090) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:40AM (#43366091) Journal

    Let's take heroin addiction for example. You know how many heroin addicts that get clean, yet go back to using the heroin? Pretty much all of them. Turning off the "addictive" cell won't change that. It's not about the addiction, it's about the high. It's about how the drug makes you feel.

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:38AM (#43366269) Homepage Journal

      They're not turning off anything, actually; they're restoring normal function that's destroyed by the addiction. This is the sort of stuff that stays behind after recovery and that makes it easy to relapse. The behavioural studies they performed more-or-less modelled the situation you describe: the researchers found that after four doses of cocaine, rats would normally ignore electric shocks in order to get at the drug. After treatment, the rats became less obsessed with the high and would not risk getting electrocuted again in order to have it. It wasn't as much of a return to normal function as a rat that had only had cocaine once, but it took a while to return to full addict behaviour.

      So, yes, it does address the functional problem that normal rehab fails to remedy. The area they chose to stimulate was specifically implicated as being responsible for loss of control in addicts.

    • No, they go back because it alleviates serious pain from major mental illness, which the vast majority of addicts have. By "major mental illness" I don't mean just garden-variety depression or anxiety, but disorders that cause wild mood swings to enraged/suicidal/terrified out of the blue, scary hallucinations, and so forth. They also don't develop coping skills for daily life, so the problems we quickly deal with & move beyond accumulate for them until they can reach their method of coping (e.g. the

    • > Let's take heroin addiction for example. You know how many heroin addicts that get clean, yet go back to using the heroin? Pretty much all of them. Turning off the "addictive" cell won't change that. It's not about the addiction, it's about the high. It's about how the drug makes you feel.

      Ok, feel a need to state the obvious.

      Feeling the high won't destroy your life. Feeling a constant need for getting high (addiction) will destroy your life.
      Many drugs are actually beneficial if used wisely. Same as eve

      • by markdavis (642305)

        >"Feeling the high won't destroy your life. Feeling a constant need for getting high (addiction) will destroy your life."

        Actually, for mind/reality-altering drugs (which excludes caffeine, nicotine, sugar, etc) the actual high *can* contribute to destroying lives. While high, judgement and functionality are so severely impaired that there is a huge risk of injury to one self and to others. And all the while, the person is completely unproductive- can't work, can't learn, can't do much of anything usef

        • >"Feeling the high won't destroy your life. Feeling a constant need for getting high (addiction) will destroy your life."

          Actually, for mind/reality-altering drugs (which excludes caffeine, nicotine, sugar, etc) the actual high *can* contribute to destroying lives. While high, judgement and functionality are so severely impaired that there is a huge risk of injury to one self and to others. And all the while, the person is completely unproductive- can't work, can't learn, can't do much of anything useful to society or for themselves.

          So yes, the need for getting high does contribute to "destroying your life", and can be the longest part of the destruction, the actual high contributes too.

          Sorry, this is total bullshit. For example, let's look at opiate drugs like heroin, which all act similarly upon the brain. It has been shown that as long as the opiate addict has a steady high-quality supply of the drug, very little in the way of harm occurs either physically or mentally. There are many famous historic examples of high-functioning opium addicts, the poet Coleridge is perhaps the best known example. More importantly, and more recently, experiments in Switzerland and elsewhere have demonstra

          • by markdavis (642305)

            No, what I said certainly is not total bull****.

            Yes, there can be high-functioning drug addicts with many drugs, especially opiates as you pointed out. It can vary greatly depending on the drug and how it is used. I didn't mean to imply it is not possible, just that there are, indeed, many cases where the high *is* a problem for the user and society, not just the seeking of it. A quick look at drunk driving or productivity/reasoning while on pot will show that. And I am not sure there is any high-functi

    • I tend to think (mostly from talking to a close friend of mine who is a social worker) that it's less about how the drug makes you feel but rather how you feel without it...

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:41AM (#43366095)

    From the Journal of Mad Science: A Cure for Addiction

    Crazy they called me! CRAZY! But it is not _I_ who have surrendered the war on drugs! I know drugs - and the only real cure is PAIN. And the best PAIN? Direct laser to the brain!

    Now, I know what you're all thinking! Dr. Madd, you're thinking, the brain doesn't have any pain receptors! You're thinking I just want to cure addiction with death! Ha! Death is no cure - it is FAILURE.

    For you see - this is not some fleshy-burny laser, oh no! This is a laser set to trigger two particular threshold states in the neurotransmitter pathways... specifically, the pathways relating to heat, and cold.

    And as any CHILD knows, both of those combined equate to the sensation of PAIN. Raw, sweet PAIN - far sweeter than any drug. Such an all-encompassing PAIN.

    Such ecstasy an horror is unleashed, that the mind scrambles through everything it can, just to make sense of it. The end result is usually one of two things - a hyper-receptive state, where the ... subject is willing to accept instruction in thanks for the experience, or a simple silence that at least commits no more crimes such as seeking out drugs.

    Such a cure! Were I a less modest man, I would call it a REVOLUTION in treatment!

    I expect to be able to roll out full production within the next two to five years, and am highly interested in investments.

    -Dr Maddeus Maddington Madd III, esq.

  • could be tested immediately in humans

    Better still, just pick up some homeless drug addicts from the streets, inject their brains with genetically engineered chemicals and fire electromagnetic radiation at them. This would represent enormous savings in medical care for drug addicts, and the best part is, the more you do it .. the more you save!

    Time for the medical industry to get a bill drafted.. call it the "Cocaine User National Treatment of Substances" act. The genetically engineered chemical* would be far cheaper than the combined med

  • So now there's a medical use for those frickin' sharks with laser beams! The only confound while doing the longitudinal study will be whether the rats were scared straight from addiction by the laser beam or by being confronted by the shark in the first place. So an extra experiment will have to be done using sharks that do not have laser beam capabilities.
    ;>)
    Now the only problem is in getting the tiny little scuba suits for the rats, or the very large land-shark suits for the sharks (that have the ap
  • If the laser was over a couple of kilowatts I guarantee it would solve the problem of drug addiction. Duh!
     

  • I heard that death is also an effective treatment to ingrown toenails.

  • This opens an opportunity for corporations to fund this research and eventually monetize it. According to TFA, they can induce addictive behavior in previously unaddicted rats with the combination of rhodopsins and lasers. All they have to do is extend the technique to work with television illumination. Then they can load up processed food with the rhodopsin and get viewers addicted to anything they put in their mouths.

    Think about nicotine style consumer addition on things that are normal and legal. Genus!

  • Also possible to use high speed metal projectiles.

  • Moving from NYC to Shanghai cured my taste for blow. First month here kinda sucked but not s bad as getting my skull open and having lasers pointed at my neocortex.

    Genetic engineering and laser is not how we end this problem. End the "war on Drugs," end the "war on Terror". Use the trillions saved to educate people and provide rehab. Our economy would be stronger, schools better, streets safer, and Mexico could get regain control from the vicious drug cartels.

  • ...for sharks to operate these lasers will commence shortly ....

  • Now I know how to help all those sharks on drugs (lab animals from my other evil experiments)....
  • I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy [with a laser]...
  • A simple .22 will do the trick as well!
  • Do not look into laser with remaining brain.

  • a .45 will do the trick as well

  • Turning them off, even in non-addicted rats, saw the addictive behavior return or introduced.

    Well that must be some kind of special hell - being addicted, but not knowing to what.

    .

  • am i the only one that chuckled when they read this?
  • Like you need a hole in the head.

  • That reminds me of a .sig....

    "Keep an open mind. Just not so open that your brain falls out"

    So they sensitize an active portion of the brain, flip open the skull and zap the brain.... OUCH.

    Oh wait the brain has almost no pain cells so this is OK.

    The part that worries me are the modern, often abused, drugs that reform the structures of the brain. To fix this, well this is not a fix.

  • Laser shots to the brain for addicts are a case of applying too much technology. Even a Colt 45 is a waste of effort. It is my thought that a guillotine can repair a lot of jerks and do so with almost no investment or maintenance at all.. It doesn't even need to be sharp if the blade is heavy enough. Then again a sledge hammer is even simpler. It is a cure. It is inexpensive. It solves a social nightmare. It is an object that inspires others to reform. And if we ever get smart enough we could compost

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