Blue M&Ms pave way to mending spinal injuries

The food dye that gives blue M&Ms their color can help mend spinal injuries (at least on rats), according to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, reports the Telegraph.

Compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) blocks a chemical that kills healthy spinal cord cells around the damaged area - an event that often causes more irreversible damage than the original injury. BBG reduced the size of the lesion and also improved the recovery of motor skills. Those treated with BBG were later able to walk, although with a limp. Rats that did not receive the BBG solution never regained the ability to walk.

Findings build on work reported on five years ago by the same team, who discovered that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - a chemical that keeps our cells alive - quickly poured into the area surrounding a spinal cord injury, but overstimulated healthy neurons and caused them to die from metabolic stress. That created a secondary injury. Injecting oxidized ATP into the site of the injury helped stop this damage.

Neurosurgeon Maiken Nedergaard, who led the research, said: "No one wants to put a needle into a spinal cord that has just been severely injured so we knew we needed another way."

Using BBG, which is administered intravenously, has solved the problem. More tests will be needed to prove the safety of BBG before human clinical trials can begin, but researchers are optimistic new treatments for acute spinal cord injuries could emerge in the next few years.

The only downsides of the treatment so far are that BBG must be injected soon after the trauma, and the treatment causes the skin to temporarily turn bright blue. If you catch sight of a blue rat, just remember it is helping scientists find a cure.