While this may sound like the trappings of a sequel to SNL’s famed “Laser Cats” video, it’s actually the spark of a possible scientific breakthrough.
Researchers have found they could eliminate cocaine addiction in rats by using laser lights to stimulate parts of their brains associated with impulse control.
The study, completed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco, offered rats levers that allowed them to self-administer infusions of cocaine.
After weeks of having free reign of an endless cocaine supply, researchers began giving the rats a slight shock to their foot whenever they pressed the lever to administer cocaine. While this led to some rats pressing the lever less often, other rats were oblivious to the shock and continued on with their cocaine addiction.
Researchers found the prelimbic cortex neurons in the unshockable rats were less responsive than in the shock-fearing rats and in rats who had never had cocaine. Their solution? Shoot lasers at it.
Antonello Bonci, scientific director of the intramural research program at the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in the paper published this week:
“When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone.”
While researchers are excited about the possibility of using the therapy on humans, it would most likely rely on electromagnetic stimulation outside the scalp versus using laser light.
With an estimated 1.4 million Americans addicted to cocaine, the therapy could be a welcomed new approach to those looking to quit.