Scientists at Stanford University in California have given a new twist to the old saying “seeing the light.” Their remarkable research has shown that stimulating the brain with a flash of light can remove fear.
The breakthrough experiment offers potential as a therapy to treat millions who suffer from acute anxiety, a psychiatric disorder. The malady can impinge upon a person’s quality of life and lead some to suffer bouts of panic attacks.
The Stanford team achieved their breakthrough by successfully isolating a mechanism in the brain that virtually erases fear. Their research appears in the current issue of Nature online.
Responding to a question from The Daily Mail, psychiatrist Professor Karl Deisseroth told them he believes the discovery will lead to an increased possibility of better medical treatments. For years researchers have sought breakthrough to enhance the efficacy of therapies designed to manage the debilitating affects of chronic anxiety disorders.
A series of experiments on laboratory mice revealed that triggering the areas in their brain—that corresponds with the same region in humans’ brains—with phased pulses of light significantly increased the animal’s risk tolerance while repressing that area increased the animals’ timidity.
Anxiety is widespread. Statistics show that almost 30 percent of people will probably confront anxiety at some time during their life. The experience will be severe enough to be diagnosed as a psychiatric impairment.
A disruptive disorder, anxiety can lead some individuals to suffer “attacks of nerves,” react to unidentified fears, experience increased heart rates and digestive maladies.
The Stanford team zeroed in on the brain mechanism by employing with a cutting-edge technology—optogenetics—that sensitizes nerve cells to light. Once sensitized the cells’ actions can be tuned, modified, managed or turned on and off, simply by exposing them to various light frequencies.
Deisseroth reports that he and his colleagues segregated a particular nerve circuit within the amygdala area of the animal’s brains. After exposure to light they documented major behavioral changes.
Discussing the results of the light therapy on the mice, Deisseroth said, “They suddenly became much more comfortable in situations they would ordinarily perceive as dangerous and, therefore, be quite anxious in.”
Light therapy in the treatment of certain maladies has been experimented with since the late 19th Century. Other therapies that are outside the normal regimen of pharmaceutical treatment include holistic aroma therapies, electrical stimulation, sonic frequency brain wave manipulation, magnetic resonance and bio-feedback applications.