What if, instead of spending big bucks on therapy and medication to help you get over a traumatic incident, you could simply have the painful memory zapped right out of your brain?

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the plot of the 2004 film 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (which, if you recall, didn’t exactly work out as planned for the couple played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.)

But now, researchers from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children say they’ve gotten one step closer to making this concept a reality, by successfully targeting and eliminating fear-based memories in mice.

“Each memory is held by a unique combination of cells in our brain,” said Sheena Josselyn of the hospital’s department of neuroscience and mental health.

Josselyn said she and her team were able to isolate the cells that carry fear-based memories.

“Once we found that, we could use a genetic trick to kill or ablate just these neurons,” she said.

The result, said Josselyn, was that the lab mice could recall everything except the targeted fear memory.

“They acted as if it had never happened.”

How exactly a mouse acts like something never happened is unclear. But if the same kind of science could be applied to humans afflicted with PTSD – like, say, former soldiers or survivors of violent crimes – it could have far-reaching implications for mental healthcare.  

“Right now, for post-traumatic stress disorder, people can take a medication,” Josselyn said.

“It affects their entire body, their entire brain. Our research tells us that we could maybe design better ways of targeting just those cells that are important in that memory rather than drugging the entire brain.”

Research focused on deleting unsettling memories in pursuit of a more pleasant existence is, of course, not without controversy. 

“We all have bad memories, we all have good memories, and we’re sort of the product of that,” Josselyn said.

“But we’re talking about somebody with something like PTSD: a soldier that comes back from war; a rape survivor that cannot get past these memories. They intrude upon their everyday lives. They really affect their functioning. What our studies tell us is it might be possible to go in and erase just that one specific memory.”

Josselyn’s research will soon appear in the academic journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

h/t CTV News