Blue Food Coloring Used In M&Ms Has Actual Medical Use

Now, you know what they say about green M&Ms. That isn’t true. But have you heard what they say about blue M&Ms? That the dye they contain can help the body to repair damage from spinal cord injuries? That one’s true. Oh, and the dye also turns rodents blue.

This hyperintelligent shade of the color blue was discovered by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. When administered intravenously immediately after a spinal cord injury, the dye inhibits the action of Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. After an injury, the body releases ATP, which kills off healthy cells and keeps patients’ spinal cords from actually healing.

Back in 2004, [lead researcher Maiken] Nedergaard’s team discovered that the spinal cord was rich in a molecule called P2X7, which is also known as “the death receptor” for its ability to allow ATP to latch onto motor neurons and send the signals which eventually kill them.

Nedergaard knew that BBG could thwart the function of P2X7, and its similarity to a blue food dye approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982 gave her the confidence to test it intravenously.

It worked. The rats given BBG immediately after their injury could walk again with a limp. Those that didn’t receive a dose never regained their mobility.

Nedergaard told CNN that there is currently no standard treatment for patients with spinal injury when they reach the hospital emergency room.

“Right now we only treat 15 percent of the patients we receive with steroids and many hospitals question if that even works for that 15 percent; it’s a very moderate benefit to only a subset of patients. So right now 85 percent of patients are untreated,” she said.

It helps mammals regain our ability to walk, AND it produces cool-looking rats! Science! What’s not to love?

(Photos: Artist’s rendering; University of Rochester)