July 29, 2009 -- A compound that's similar to the blue food dye in Gatorade and M&Ms may hold promise for people with spinal cord injuries, new research says.
The compound, called Brilliant Blue G, blocks the cascade of events that leads to inflammation following a traumatic injury of the spinal cord, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center report in a study involving rats.
Inflammation often causes more irreversible damage than the initial trauma, but this secondary damage, considered inevitable, may one day be preventable, the scientists say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Blue Dye Prevents Inflammation
After researchers led by Maiken Nedergaard, MD, director of neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, injected Brilliant Blue G into rats with spinal cord injuries, the rodents showed improved mobility and even hobbled about. They also temporarily turned blue.
Injured rats that were not given a dose of the blue dye didn’t walk at all.
The results of the study build on research by Nedergaard that was published in 2004 in the journal Nature Medicine.
That study showed that a substance called ATP, the energy source that keeps cells alive, runs out of control at the site of a spinal cord injury, activating a molecule known to cause inflammation and kill spinal neuron cells.
For these neurons, inflammation often causes more damage than the initial trauma to the spine, meaning that for treatment to work it must be administered immediately after the spinal cord injury.
Brilliant Blue G blocks ATP from flooding the spinal injury and triggering inflammation, the researchers say.
The authors say there is no effective way to “treat acute spinal cord injury, apart from the use of steroids, which provide at best modest protection to a subset of patients.”
Nedergaard says that although her research offers a promising new possible approach to treating spinal cord injuries, more research is needed.