Study Suggests Gene Therapy May Reverse Diabetes-related Nerve Damage
According to the American Diabetes Association, about 4.2 million adults with diabetes also suffer from diabetic neuropathy, a painful nerve condition that can cause numbness, tingling and burning sensations, most commonly in the feet and ankles. The ADA reports about half of all people with diabetes will experience nerve symptoms at some point during the course of their disease. Many people with advanced neuropathy lose the ability to discern sensations in their feet, making them much more likely to incur injuries or to delay treatment for problems like infections that can’t be felt.
Traditionally, the treatment for diabetic neuropathy has centered on using more effective and aggressive means to monitor and control blood sugar levels combined with medications and other approaches to help mitigate symptoms. Still, more than 70,000 people undergo limb amputations each year as a result of infections and other complications related to diabetes and diabetic neuropathy, and so far, no cure has been found for the condition. The good news is, the results of a new study may be about to change all that.
Gene Therapy Holds Promise
Led by researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the multi-center, double-blind study explored the use of human growth factor injections to help improve the painful symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and potentially reverse nerve damage. Patients enrolled in the nationwide study were randomized to receive injections of growth factors or to receive placebo injections. Questionnaires, pain scales and other tools were used to compare the results in both groups.
What the researchers found was that after just two days of treatment, painful symptoms were reduced by 50 percent or more in the patients who received growth factor injections compared with 17 percent of placebo patients. Even more encouraging, the relief persisted for up to three months in the group treated with growth factors, and no significant adverse events were reported. The researchers say these results suggest gene therapy may provide a new, long-term approach to managing painful diabetic neuropathy symptoms that goes beyond the temporary relief provided by pain-relieving medications, and without the same potential for side effects. More importantly, researchers say there is some evidence the therapy may help reverse the nerve damage that occurs in patients with diabetic neuropathy. If future studies support that finding, it would be the first treatment to accomplish nerve healing in patients with the debilitating condition.
Podiatrists serve an important role in helping diabetic patients avoid the painful symptoms and serious complications associated with diabetic neuropathy. Dr. Sigal is committed to exploring new therapies that can help patients suffering from a broad array of podiatric problems, serving as a principal investigator in several clinical trials, including investigations of emerging diabetic foot care methods and products. The practice actively participates in clinical trials of new and investigational products and drugs, recruiting eligible patients from throughout Southern California. To learn more about the role of podiatry in managing diabetic neuropathy and other diabetes- related issues like slow-to-heal ulcers, or to find out more about clinical trials at the practice, visit the Foot & Ankle Clinic website or call our office at (213) 365-0793.