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Blue Food Dye Helps Spinal Cord Injuries

July 28, 2009

U.S. researchers reported on Monday that a common and safe blue food dye might provide the best treatment available for spinal cord injuries.

Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester Medical Center and colleagues reported that tests in rats showed the dye, called brilliant blue G, crossed into the spinal fluid and helped block inflammation. 

“We have no effective treatment now for patients who have an acute spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Steven Goldman, who worked on the study.

“Our hope is that this work will lead to a practical, safe agent that can be given to patients shortly after injury, for the purpose of decreasing the secondary damage that we have to otherwise expect.”

Once nerve cells in the brain or spine are damaged, they often release a spurt of chemicals that causes nearby cells to die.  No one is quite sure why this happens, and stopping this process is key to preventing the damage that continues to build after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

One of those chemicals is ATP.  Nedergaard’s team found that blue dye, which they called BBG, interferes with this and is the P2X7R receptor or doorway.

“We found that IV administration of the P2X7R inhibitor BBG significantly reduced the severity of spinal cord damage without any evident toxicity,” they wrote.

“Remarkably, BBG is a derivative of the widely used food additive FD&C Blue number 1. Currently, more than 1 million pounds of FD&C blue dye No. 1 are consumed yearly in the United States, corresponding to a daily intake of 16 mg per person.”

The only known toxicity is in patients that suffer blood infections known as sepsis.

Nedergaard warned that test in humans are likely to still be years away, and treatment would have to be immediate because the damage to the nerve cells is irreversible.

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