FROM SAVORING A piece of cake to hugging a friend, many of life’s pleasures trigger a similar reaction in the brain – a surge of dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Recent research suggests this reward circuit may do much more than make us smile.

Researchers implanted skin and lung cancer cells in mice, then stimulated the dopamine-releasing neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of their brains. The rush of dopamine disabled a group of cells that promote tumor growth. That allowed the immune system to respond more effectively to the tumors, which were 40 to 52% smaller and lower in weight in mice that received VTA stimulation than in those that didn’t. “By artificially activating [the VTA],” says the study’s coauthor, Asya Rolls of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, “we can affect the nervous system and, in turn, the immune system.”

Moreover, the researchers explain, once the immune system is activated in this way, it appears to create a “memory” of the foreign agents to which it has been exposed, allowing it to respond more efficiently to them in the future.

Rolls doesn’t believe that positive thinking alone can cure cancer. But the study’s authors hope that cancer patients might someday receive brain stimulation as an add-on therapy that could, in turn, reduce the need for traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Published by Zakieh Lloyd

I'm a housewife, and mother of a 6 year old dog. I don't have kids. Currently knitting different items to be sold.

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