Quercetin, a naturally occurring extract which is present in some herbs, grains, fruits and vegetables, could help prevent damage to nerves linked to spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), scientists believe.
SMA is often known as floppy baby syndrome because it leaves children with little or no control of their movements.
The disease, a leading genetic cause of death among infants and toddlers, affects one in 6,000 babies and around 50% of those with the severest form will die before they are two.
Quercetin targets the build-up of the beta-catenin molecule inside cells which is responsible for some of the symptoms of the disease, the Edinburgh University team found.
They tested a purified form of the extract on flies, mice and zebrafish, noting a significant improvement in the health of muscle and nerve cells.
Lead researcher Professor Tom Gillingwater said: “This is an important step that could one day improve quality of life for the babies affected by this condition and their families.
“There is currently no cure for this kind of neuromuscular disorder so new treatments that can tackle the progression of disease are urgently needed.”
Scientists hope to create more effective versions of the naturally occurring chemical.
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