Children from the age of 3 know that Silly Putty is amazing stuff. It bounces, breaks, flows and can transfer images from newspaper to other surfaces.

But a research team at the University of Michigan has discovered a far more dramatic use for the low-cost favorite among pre-schoolers: One of its key ingredients may lead to new treatments for Lou Gehrig's disease.

Or Alzheimer's. Or Huntington's.

The ingredient is polydimethylsiloxane, which makes Silly Putty stretchy. It turns out that the ingredient also helps embryonic stem cells turn into working spinal cord cells more efficiently.

Stem cells are being researched for use in treating these medical conditions and more. The silicone substance allows for the faster production of nerve cells that are 10 times larger and four times purer.

This technique already is being used to develop new treatments for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease.

Who ever named the stuff "silly"?