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It’s that time of year again: holiday parties and family feasts! One of the most frequently made—and most often broken—New Year’s resolutions is to follow a sensible diet.

All goes well until you catch sight of a cupcake or smell some cookies fresh out of the oven. Sensory cues trigger cravings that crumble resolve and, before you know it, you’re on a sugar high.

Actually, from a biological perspective, it’s not a fair fight. Once desires and preferences are hard-wired in the brain, people have difficulty changing their habits. But one of 2013 recipients of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, Kay Tye of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, is up for the challenge. In a high-risk, high-reward research project, she’s trying to find ways to control food cravings by reprogramming the brain, where the behavior begins.

Tye says her interest in the human brain began when she was a freshman at MIT and met H.M.—perhaps the most iconic patient in the history of brain research. H.M. was intriguing because experimental brain surgery had left him unable to form new memories, yet the old ones remained intact—a sign that there are multiple memory systems at work in the human brain. From that point on, she knew she wanted to study neuroscience, specifically memory. She began with emotional memories, including those associated with food, images, and songs. But what intrigued her the most was how emotional memories could affect health and disease… Original Article »

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