Blue Dye Halts Worsening Paralysis in Animal Study

Discovery could lead to new treatments for people with spine injuries

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TUESDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- The food additive that makes M&Ms and Gatorade blue may help prevent the secondary damage that occurs after a spinal cord injury, a new study suggests.

Researchers say that the dye, called Brilliant Blue G (BBG), stops the cascade of molecular events that can expand the area of injury and permanently worsen paralysis.

This finding builds on landmark research that detailed how ATP, the vital energy source that keeps the body's cells alive, pours into the area around a spinal cord injury, killing off healthy and uninjured cells. This previous research also laid out a potential way to stop secondary spinal injury: use oxidized ATP to block the ATP, according to background information provided in a news release from the University of Rochester.

Rats with damaged spinal cords that were injected with oxidized ATP recovered much of their limb function and were able to effectively, if not gracefully, walk again, the earlier research found.

The new study has found a compound that does the same thing, and it doesn't have to be injected directly into the injured spinal cord to work, the study authors explain in their report, published online in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"While we achieved great results when oxidized ATP was injected directly into the spinal cord, this method would not be practical for use with spinal cord-injured patients," said lead researcher Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

"First, no one wants to put a needle into a spinal cord that has just been severely injured, so we knew we needed to find another way to quickly deliver an agent that would stop ATP from killing healthy motor neurons. Second, the compound we initially used, oxidized ATP, cannot be injected into the bloodstream because of its dangerous side effects," Nedergaard explained in the news release.

In the search for a compound that would thwart ATP attacks and could be administered intravenously, Nedergaard stumbled upon BBG.

An intravenous injection of BBG significantly reduced secondary injury in spinal cord-injured rats, which improved to the point of being able to walk again, although with a limp. There was a side effect, however. Injected rats had a blue tinge to their skin for a while.

While more study is needed, Nedergaard and longtime collaborator Dr. Steven Goldman, chair of the University of Rochester Department of Neurology, hope that BBG and related agents will yield new treatments for acute spinal cord injuries.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health offers information on spinal cord injuries.

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