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Times of India
02 July 2010
By John Harlow

Jab To Alter Brain Chemistry, Create ‘Focused Calm’: Expert
Fret Not: Soon, a Vaccine to Combat Stress
The jab neutralizes hormones called glucocorticoids, that help us deal with a threat but become toxic when continue to be secreted long after the cause of stress is eliminated.

Californian scientists believe they are closing in on the first vaccine for stress, working on a single injection that would help us relax without slowing down.

The quest for the lifetime cure to stress is being led by Robert Sapolsky, professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, who after 30 years of research believes he can now alter the brain chemistry to create more“focused calm”. Sapolsky says he is on the path to a genetically engineered alternative to yoga, pills and friends urging others to relax – itself a recognised cause of tension.

Chronic stress is linked to illnesses ranging from diabetes to heart attacks. Sapolsky, who first observed the damage caused by stress on animals in Kenya, has been working on hormones called glucocorticoids, which are part of the body’s immune system and help to fight cancer and inflammation. All mammals produce these hormones, which help them deal with a threat.

Sapolsky has observed that modern man not only produces too many glucocorticoids in response to everyday alarms but cannot turn them off afterwards. He says the hormone becomes toxic both biologically – they destroy brain cells and weaken the immune system – and socially, when stressed people continue to snap at friends hours after the original cause of tension has vanished.

The Stanford team has adapted a herpes virus to carry engineered“neuroprotective” genes deep into the brain to neutralise the rogue hormones before they can damage the brain. The virus is shown to work on rats. SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON