Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blue Rats and Gatorade Shenanigans

A cool bit of research published Monday in PNAS showed that rats injected intravenously with a blue dye shortly after spinal cord injury appear to fully recover function after healing, while without it, they remain paralyzed. The photogenic side effect is, one might imagine, becoming a Smurf.


Cool, interesting research. Hopefully it pans out.

From Wired Science, Blue Food Dye Treats Spine Injury in Rats:

“We just had proof of principle,” Nedergaard [the researcher]said. “We didn’t have anything we could give to patients.” Then, while searching for chemicals with structures similar to the P2X7 receptor, the scientists came across FD&C blue dye No. 1, completely non-toxic and approved by the FDA in 1928.

Cool, but hold on. From the telegraph, under the vastly overstating headline Blue M&Ms 'mend spinal injuries':

The compound Brilliant Blue G 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.

There’s one slight problem here. FD&C blue dye No. 1 and Brilliant Blue G are not the same chemical. They’re similar, to be sure, but a simple Wikipedia search shows that Blue No. 1 and BBG are not the same. Maybe I’m nitpicking. Maybe I’m not.

I know the desire to say that Gatorade and M&Ms cure disease is tempting. I know that saying that sort of thing is bound to draw in readers, and a slight omission seems prudent, but when CNN writes (title: Same blue dye in M&Ms linked to reducing spine injury):

The same blue food dye found in M&Ms and Gatorade could be used to reduce damage caused by spine injuries, offering a better chance of recovery, according to new research.

I call foul. Lazy, lazy journalism. F minus. See me after class.

But perhaps “Compound that manages to ruin every biochemist’s favourite shirt has potential therapeutic application” just doesn’t sound as nice to the public.


See the article at PNAS: Systemic administration of an antagonist of the ATP-sensitive receptor P2X7 improves recovery after spinal cord injury
And previous work establishing the use of Coomassie Brilliant Blue G on the relevant receptor: Brilliant Blue G Selectively Blocks ATP-Gated Rat P2X7 Receptors

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