At least it's not more lead...

My wife just reminded me that PharmKid wanted us to buy her Aqua Dots a week or two ago.

The WSJ Health Blog nicely summarizes a New York Times article on the recall of the toy beads because their ingestion releases the CNS suppressant, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), from a precursor present in the bead adhesive.

Yes, the product was manufactured in China, but it was distributed by a company in Toronto.

A recall has been ordered by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The NYT article by Keith Bradsher has a great angle on how a scientist identified the GHB and GHB precursor after a case of a 20-month-old becoming comatose after ingesting the beads.

I was having trouble finding out the identity of the specific GHB precursor in the product. However, Sb's Molecule of the Day blog has been way ahead of the curve on this one: the precursor is 1,4-butanediol - go over to MoTD if you want to know about the chemistry. (Your alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes - the ones that break down "alcohol" - are the same ones that convert 1,4-butanediol to GHB.).

Incidentally, you may have heard recently of a related name, "butanedione." The chemical, 2,3-butanedione (also called diacetyl), is the butter flavoring whose inhalation has been associated with a very serious lung disease (bronchiolitis obliterans) in microwave popcorn manufacturing workers and microwave popcorn enthusiasts. While not related to GHB, this another 4-carbon chain compound.

Why do I note this? Another 4-carbon chain compound, butyrate, is produced in high concentrations from the fermentation of fiber in our colons. Laboratory studies have shown that high concentrations of butyrate can keep cancer cells in a "more differentiated" and less tumorigenic state, perhaps accounting for the colon cancer-preventing effects of a high-fiber diet. In fact, the first histone deacetylase inhibiting anticancer drug approved by the FDA for cancer treatment was based on the action of butyrate described almost 30 years ago.

I'm not a chemist and I'm just thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that chemicals with variations on a 4-carbon theme have remarkable biological effects, both helpful and harmful.

Four carbons...what's up with that?

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We've had these sold in Australia under a different name, and with different accesseries but recalled for the same reason.