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Soon, a jab could cure stress

world Updated: Aug 02, 2010 21:42 IST

You may no longer need popping pills, yoga or mediation to get relief from chronic stress, as scientists claim they are close to developing a vaccine that can help you cope with the condition.

Scientists at the Stanford University in California said a single jab of the world's first anti-stress vaccine, which is the result of 30 years of research, could help people relax without slowing down.

Chronic stress, which is linked to illnesses ranging from diabetes to heart attacks.

Stressing that it is possible to alter brain chemistry to create a state of "focused calm", Dr Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, said he was on the path to a genetically engineered formula that would remove the need for relaxation therapies or prescription drugs, the Daily Mail reported.

Professor Sapolsky, who first observed the damage caused by stress on animals in Kenya, has been studying hormones called glucocorticoids, which are part of the body's immune system and help fight cancer and inflammation.

All mammals produce these hormones, which help them deal with a threat -- often by running away.

But Professor Sapolsky has observed that, while a zebra will turn off the stress chemicals after escaping from a lion, modern man not only produces too many glucocorticoids in response to everyday alarms but cannot turn them off afterwards.

He said the hormone becomes toxic both biologically, by destroying brain cells and weakening the immune system, and socially, when people continue to snap at their friends or family hours after the original cause of tension has vanished.

After early setbacks, 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 cause damage. The virus is now shown to work on rats.

"To be honest, I'm still amazed that it works," Prof Sapolsky said.

He warned that human trials are years away, but added: "We have proved that it's possible. We can reduce the neural damage caused by stress."

Last week, a Stanford University colleague, who called the potential vaccine 'the Sapolsky shot', said: "In humans this engineered virus would short-circuit the neural feedback caused by stress, that lingering feeling of tension after a crisis has passed.

"It would leave you fresher and ready to deal with another threat, so you can maintain your drive, but with more focused calm rather than bad temper and digestion.

"This could change society."

Last week, Prof Sapolsky left Stanford to take his own "proven medicine" for stress: He turned off his email and is spending August with his family.