An old Indian spice and a dye whose cousin makes sports drinks blue are pointing scientists toward better treatment of traumatic brain injuries.

TBIs, the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, occur on football fields and roadways as well when an injured brain swells inside the closed confines of the skull, causing cell damage and symptoms ranging from headaches and confusion to seizures, slurred speech and death.

Medical College of Georgia researchers suspect that one day curcumin - the biologically active ingredient that makes the spice turmeric yellow - and the dye brilliant blue G - or their analogues - may be what doctors order to block the dangerous swelling.

"Today we don't have good therapies for TBIs, which can mean many good and often young minds are damaged or even lost," said Dr. Cargill H. Alleyne Jr., Chairman of the MCG Department of Neurosurgery. "We believe these attempts to characterize how edema and secondary injury develop after head trauma will enhance our efforts at prevention as well as identify novel therapies. This may eventually make a big difference for those injured on battlefields, football fields and highways."

"This is a dire situation for these patients," added Dr. Krishnan Dhandapani, MCG neuroscientist who vividly remembers a young TBI patient he saw his first week on the MCG faculty. The young male was riding an all-terrain vehicle helmetless when he flipped and hit his head on a rock. MCG Neurosurgeon John Vender, who had removed a portion of the patient's skull to give the brain room to swell, explained that was one of the biggest problems after trauma.