Picture this: While reaching for the cookie jar — or cigarette or bottle of booze or other temptation — a sudden slap denies your outstretched hand. When the urge returns, out comes another slap.
Now imagine those "slaps" occurring inside the brain, protecting you in moments of weakness.
In a report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford neuroscientists say they've achieved this sort of mind-reading in binge-eating mice. They found a telltale pattern of brain activity that comes up seconds before the animals start to pig out — and delivering a quick zap to that part of the brain kept the mice from overindulging.
Whether this strategy could block harmful impulses in people remains unclear. For now the path seems promising. The current study used a brain stimulation device already approved for hard-to-treat epilepsy. And based on the new findings, a clinical trial testing this off-the-shelf system for some forms of obesity could start as early as next summer, says Casey Halpern, the study's leader and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. He thinks the approach could also work for eating disorders and a range of other addictive or potentially life-threatening urges.Look, if the only way this could work is putting electrodes into the brain, it's not going to be a common operation.