A loonie-sized region of the brain could hold the secret to quitting smoking with ease.
When this brain region, called the insula, is damage by a stroke, it can completely erase the desire to smoke, according to a study published today in the journal Science.
The researchers point to the case of a patient who used to smoke 40 cigarettes a day. After suffering a stroke, he immediately kicked the habit. He told the researchers his body "forgot the urge to smoke."
Obviously, deliberately damaging the brain isn't a practical solution for smokers. But the study offers clues to the development of new treatments. For instance, drugs that "target the insula could prove to be effective," said Antoine Bechara, who led the study at the University of Southern California and the University of Iowa.
The insula is a receiving centre for messages from other parts of the body. Scientists believe the insula helps to translate those signals into emotions and feelings, such as the craving for a butt.
Research on this little-studied part of the brain could also pave the way to new treatments for other addictions, such as for alcohol and hard drugs. "I even think it may work for obesity," Dr. Bechara speculated.
Of course, it will take years before this work translates into novel therapies. Even so, there are still some new anti-smoking options on the immediate horizon. Health Canada, for example, has just approved a new drug called Champix that eases withdrawal by binding to nicotine receptors in the brain.