In the UK, one in 6,000 babies is born with SMA or spinal muscular atrophy. This is one of the leading genetic causes of infant death. The condition can lead to severe disability.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have discovered a plant pigment names quercetin which could help babies with this condition. The pigment is found in grains, vegetables and fruit and may aid in preventing the nerve damage which is linked to the condition.
The discovery made by the research team is that an accumulation of a particular molecule in cells, called beta-catenin, is responsible for a number of the symptoms linked to this condition. Purified quercetin has so far only been tested on mice, flies and zebra fish. These tests revealed that the pigment led to a huge health improvement in the muscle and nerve cells of the animals.
Children who are born with spinal muscular atrophy suffer from muscle wastage which results in immobility and no control over their movements. The condition is also known as ‘floppy baby syndrome’ because of the weakness in the bodies of the infants.
Many of the patients will experience some form of paralysis. In severe cases, the vital organs of the patient will cease its function and the patient will die. The main cause of death is usually respiratory failure. The disease has four categories. Three of these affect children and the other develops later in life.
Currently there is no cure for this type of neuromuscular disorder, so it is imperative that new treatments be researched and found.
Scotland has been the frontrunner in the research for SMA treatments. Researchers at St Andrews University have recently done work on unraveling how the cells are damaged during spinal muscular atrophy. They discovered that the affected cells move through the body too quickly and this could be the reason why not all the information is absorbed to allow the muscles in the body to function correctly.
This research is currently in its initial stages and there are several more stages to be tested before it becomes a reality.
Image credit: Thomas