Researchers at the University of Washington have shown that a trace component in burnt sugar (like the creme brulee above) and Caramel Colour III (used to color dark beers, brown sugar, etc) has been shown to help regenerate muscles in both fruit fly and mouse models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Drs. Morayma Reyes (Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine) and Hannele Ruohola-Baker (Professor of Biochemistry; Associate Director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine) studied mouse models that were missing a protein responsible for repairing muscle, called dystrophin. Like the human condition, the mice are unable to repair muscle cells. The inability to repair proteins causes muscles, including the heart and respiratory muscles, to weaken over time resulting in death usually prior to age 30. There is currently no cure or effective treatment to help repair the muscle proteins.
Dr. Ruohola-Baker discovered that a bioactive lipid called sphingosine 1-phosphate is responsible for regenerating damaged tissues, converting stem cells into adult cells (embryos cannot develop without it), and preventing the death of cells. Others have shown that muscle levels of sphingosine 1-phosphate are lower in mice with muscular dystrophy and the pathways the lipid normally activates do not function properly.
Since sphingosine 1-phosphate is used up quickly in the body, Drs. Reyes and Ruohola-Baker tried to find a drug that would increase the concentration of this lipid by preventing it from breaking down. They discovered a molecule called 2-acetyl4 (5)-tetrahydroxybutyl imidazole (aka: THI) that works by inhibiting an enzyme responsible for breaking down sphingosine 1-phosphate. THI is found in Caramel Color III and burnt sugar. The coloring is added to beer, cola, candies, etc. However, it is only found in very small amounts in these foods. When the researchers administered purified and concentrated THI to fruit flies that lacked dystrophin, they found that THI improved muscle wasting. When they next gave it to young mouse models of muscular dystrophy, they likewise found that THI increased the size of muscle fibers in addition to the force the mouse muscles could produce. Muscle scarring was also reduced in the mice treated with THI.
The next step: additional studies of THI that may lead into pre-clinical trials of the food coloring for the treatment of human cases of muscular dystrophy.
Personally, any excuse to eat creme brulee sounds good to me.
Ieronimakis N, Pantoja M, Hays AL, Dosey TL, Qi J, Fischer KA, Hoofnagle AN, Sadilek M, Chamberlain JS, Ruohola-Baker H, Reyes M. Increased sphingosine-1-phosphate improves muscle regeneration in acutely injured mdx mice. Skeletal Muscle 3:20, 2013.