Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania say MRI scans may be able to predict which patients will succeed with certain addiction treatments, and which ones will relapse, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Researchers at the university’s Center for Studies of Addiction are watching how regions of the brain react to drug-related photos, such as pictures of a heroin needle or a crushed pill. They hope to use this research to develop more effective treatments. One day, they hope that treatment could be tailored to a person’s mental strengths and vulnerabilities. These factors are influenced by genetics, life experiences and drug use, they say.
“We’re interested in seeing if, among the people that do better, their brains are different now,” Teresa Franklin, who directs nicotine and marijuana MRI studies at the university, told the newspaper. “This is not something that gets better in 12 weeks of treatment. This is a lifelong process where the brain has to be retrained. Just as if you have diabetes or high blood pressure or a heart condition, you have to change your lifestyle and you may need medication.”
She said her group thinks if a person’s “stop” regions of the brain, which deal with consequences, are not working well, and are not communicating well with regions that say “go” and drive the motivation for rewards, then it is likely that person is going to do poorly in treatment.
The group’s research show that in a person who is addicted to drugs, the brain’s reward region will light up in an MRI scan, even in response to subliminal cues, such as an image of crack rocks that flash on-screen for a few milliseconds while the person looks at a photo of a neutral object, such as a stapler.
“If we can manipulate that response with medication or behavioral therapy, that’s our goal,” Franklin said.
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