Erasing The ‘Memory’ Of Cocaine: A Breakthrough In Treating Addiction

The fight against addiction may have a powerful new weapon. Rehab will rid your body of addictive substances and teach you how to live without drugs, but temptation remains. What if you could forget ever having taken cocaine?

Hooked on the memory (andronicusmax)

GENEVA – Unlike many other drugs, cocaine does not trigger a physical addiction. It can however cause a psychological one in some 20% of its users, which can push them to lose control over their consumption, and can often lead to dire consequences.

It is also that psychological addiction that lasts even after rehab, because the brain will forever remember having taken the drug

Now, neuroscience researchers from Geneva University may have found a way to erase that memory through a new laser technique that they have successfully tested on mice.

The scientists focused on a part of the nervous system called the "reward circuit." The main function of this network of brain cells is associating vital behaviors – like eating or reproducing – with feelings of pleasure. Information is transmitted between two different areas of the brain: one holds information on levels of satisfaction, and the other registers the context in which it happened.

Cocaine abnormally raises levels in the brain of dopamine, a substance responsible for the transmission of information between both parts of the brain. That phenomenon forever marks the brain and explains why even after years of sobriety, a recovering addict can still be tempted by the drug.

"Take someone who took cocaine in a certain place. Even sober, this person won't be able to walk by that same place without some of his brain cells getting excited and awakening a desire to take the drug," says Vincent Pascoli, the lead researcher.

It is this hidden memory, mixing context and desire to use, that the researchers say can be erased. Working on mice that have ingested cocaine, they infect certain brain cells in a virus that introduces a light-sensitive protein that can be targeted by a laser. With the use of a laser, researchers were able to control brain activity and bring information transmission levels back to normal.

The process proved a success in the short term, with the mice acting like they'd never taken cocaine in the days following the procedure. The long-term effects have yet to be tested on mice. And of course, the procedure must still be tried on humans.

Read the full story in French by Etienne Dubuis

Photo – andronicusmax

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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