Burnt sugar treatment for MD?

Burnt sugar treatment for muscular dystrophy?
You may have seen headlines on the internet about researchers testing a substance found in burnt sugar, beer, cola and some lollies as a treatment for muscular dystrophy. Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? But actually this early stage research is based on the relatively new field of neutraceuticals. That is, exploiting the medicinal benefits of components of food.

Modern science is now able to analyse and isolate the individual components in food which can then be investigated for medicinal properties. This is promising because this approach has the potential to uncover powerful substances to manage or prevent the symptoms of disease without harmful side effects. Scientists funded by Muscular Dystrophy Australia at the National Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre (NMDRC) are pursuing the testing of some other promising neutraceuticals.

What did the researchers show?
For more than a decade scientists have been investigating a finding made during toxicity testing of caramel food colourants. It turns out that a component of this colourant, called THI stops the breakdown of a molecule naturally found in the body called sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). Scientists also know from studying mice and fruit flies that S1P is important for repairing muscle and preventing muscle wasting.

In this study researchers in the USA investigated the effect of THI on a mouse model of Duchenne MD – the mdx mouse. The mice were either injected with THI or it was added to their drinking water. The muscle size and strength of treated mice was found to be increased and there was reduced accumulation of scar and fat tissue. The improvement was fairly modest and the muscles were still weaker than healthy mice.

What does this mean for patients?
This research shows that increasing levels of S1P in the muscles may be a successful way to reduce the severity of Duchenne MD and possibly other types of muscle wasting conditions by increasing muscle regeneration. A high concentration of THI was required in the muscle for an effect to be seen and the authors of the study commented that there are other molecules similar to THI that may work better as a drug.

So don’t ruin your best pan burning sugar just yet, the amount of THI in these foods is miniscule and this is very early stage research carried out in mice. Further research is required to determine the true potential of this approach.

Further information

This research was published in the journal Skeletal Muscle and is available to read here:

The article is written in technical language with no summary in lay terms.