A chemical found in plants could help improve the lives of babies with a rare muscle disease, a study has found.
Edinburgh University scientists hope the quercetin extract will pave the way for new treatments to ease the symptoms of incurable spinal muscular atrophy.
The disease, known as floppy baby syndrome, leaves children with little or no control of their movements.
One in 6,000 babies are affected by the condition, and about half with the most severe form will die by the age of two.
Edinburgh University experts found evidence that quercetin, found in some fruits, vegetables, herbs and grains, could help prevent damage to nerves associated with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
The chemical targets the build-up of a specific molecule inside cells, called beta-catenin, that is responsible for some of the symptoms of the condition.
Tests of a purified form of the extract on zebrafish, flies and mice led to a significant improvement in the health of nerve and muscle cells.
Prof Tom Gillingwater, of Edinburgh University, 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.”
It is hoped better versions of quercetin can be created that are more effective than the naturally-occurring chemical.