July 27, 2009--
Fifteen minutes after this rat was paralyzed, researchers injected the rodent with Brilliant Blue G dye, a derivative of common food coloring Blue Number One. The dye reduced inflammation of the spinal cord, which allowed the rats to take clumsy steps—but not walk—within weeks, a new study says.
In both rats and people, secondary inflammation following spinal cord trauma causes more lasting damage than the initial injury: Swelling sparks a small "stroke," which stops blood flow and eventually kills off the surrounding tissue.
Other than blue skin and eyes, "we can find no clinical effect on the rat," said Maiken Nedergaard,
a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York.
That lack of side effects may also help make the blue dye a boon to paralyzed humans down the road. "The beauty of it is that it wouldn't harm you," Nedergaard said—unlike previous compounds used to treat spinal cord injuries, which had toxic effects.
Photograph courtesy Takahiro Takano