Discovery points to a way to reverse suffering of diabetic nerve pain

August 8, 2013 by Josh Barney

For people with diabetes who suffer from peripheral neuropathy, a gentle touch can be agony. A warm shower can be torture. New research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, however, has shed light on the causes of this common diabetes complication – and may ultimately offer a way to reverse it.

"Normally pain is useful information because it alerts us that there is a damaging effect – something happening to tissues. But this pain is typically without any obvious reason," U.Va. researcher and anesthesiologist Dr. Slobodan M. Todorovic said. "It's because nerves are being affected by high levels of glucose in the blood. So nerves start working on their own and start sending to the brain. It can be a debilitating condition that severely affects quality of life."

Todorovic and Dr. Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic, Harold Carron Professor of Anesthesiology and Neuroscience at U.Va., have been able to reverse the condition of peripheral diabetic neuropathy in mice using a substance that is naturally present in humans and animals.

"Our hope," he said, "is that we can do clinical studies in humans in the near future to show that this is a new treatment that is promising for patients."

Scientists have known that diabetic neuropathy is caused by excess glucose in the blood, but the new findings shed light on how this happens. The U.Va. researchers and their collaborators found that high levels of blood sugar change the structure of channels that allow calcium into , essentially throttling them open. Excess calcium floods into the cells, the cells become hyperactive, and the effect can range from tingling in the arms and legs to unbearable pain.

That understanding could be extremely important not just for treating diabetic neuropathy, a condition that affects 60 percent to 70 percent of people with diabetes, but for other conditions that cause , such as from accidents or wounds veterans received in combat. "We found the function of these channels is similarly affected in these conditions," Todorovic said.

It's extremely important to find new treatments for diabetic neuropathy because of the growing prevalence of diabetes and the limitations of existing options, the Todorovics said. For example, a commonly used drug, helpful for some but not all patients, often causes significant fatigue.

"A lot of patients decide to cope with the pain rather than to be sleepy all day," Todorovic said. The substance the U.Va. researchers are testing, on the other hand, does not cause drowsiness, because it works on the nerves rather than in the brain.

"A lot of drugs will completely shut down function of the channel, and that, in humans, we know will cause side effects. … If you completely block it, then you can have a complete lack of sensation, which is not good either," Todorovic said. "So we're trying to find something that would work in between."

"In some ways, you can think about it as going back to the baseline," Jevtovic-Todorovic said. "It's not a complete blockade; it's a normalization."

The new findings have been published online by the journal Diabetes and will appear in a forthcoming print edition. The U.Va. researchers hope that reversing the early stages of could prevent the complete loss of feeling associated with the advanced stages of the disease.

Explore further: Drug offers new pain management therapy for diabetics

Related Stories

Drug offers new pain management therapy for diabetics

October 30, 2012
A study from the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute shows there is evidence to support a new drug therapy called nabilone to treat diabetic neuropathy, or nerve pain. Researchers enrolled 60 patients with diabetic ...

Vitamins may ease diabetes symptoms, study finds

April 29, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Vitamin therapy is a promising avenue to improving symptoms of pain, tingling and numbness in hands and feet typical of diabetic neuropathy, a study by Tulane University researchers concluded.

Diabetes: Tighter control of blood sugar prevents nerve condition, but at what risk?

June 12, 2012
Aggressive control of blood sugar levels in diabetes can help to prevent a painful condition affecting patients' nerves, according to a new systematic review in the Cochrane Library. However, the review suggests that optimal ...

Various metabolic risk factors could be linked to diabetes-related pain with major implications for treatment

May 17, 2012
Around 1 in 50 people in the general population and 1 in 6 of those aged over 40 years experience neuropathy (damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system), which can cause numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness. ...

Potential biomarker emerging for diabetic neuropathy

June 13, 2012
An emerging biomarker may eventually lead to new approaches for treating diabetics at risk of developing nerve damage, UNSW researchers have found.

Neuropathy patients more likely to receive high-cost, screening instead of more effective tests

January 23, 2012
Researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the tremendous cost of diagnosing peripheral neuropathy and found that less expensive, more effective tests are less likely to be used.

Recommended for you

Scientists discover a new way to treat type 2 diabetes

July 21, 2017
Medication currently being used to treat obesity is also proving to have significant health benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes. A new study published today in Molecular Metabolism explains how this therapeutic benefit ...

Alzheimer's drug cuts hallmark inflammation related to metabolic syndrome by 25 percent

July 20, 2017
An existing Alzheimer's medication slashes inflammation and insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome, a potential therapeutic intervention for a highly dangerous condition affecting 30 percent of adults in the ...

Diabetes or its precursor affects 100 million Americans

July 19, 2017
Almost one-third of the US population—100 million people—either has diabetes or its precursor condition, known as pre-diabetes, said a government report Tuesday.

One virus may protect against type 1 diabetes, others may increase risk

July 11, 2017
Doctors can't predict who will develop type 1 diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys the cells needed to control blood-sugar levels, requiring daily insulin injections and continual monitoring.

Diabetes complications are a risk factor for repeat hospitalizations, study shows

July 7, 2017
For patients with diabetes, one reason for hospitalization and unplanned hospital readmission is severe dysglycemia (uncontrolled hyperglycemia - high blood sugar, or hypoglycemia - low blood sugar), says new research published ...

Researchers identify promising target to protect bone in patients with diabetes

July 7, 2017
Utilizing metabolomics research techniques, NYU Dentistry researchers investigated the underlying biochemical activity and signaling within the bone marrow of hyperglycemic mice with hopes of reducing fracture risks of diabetics

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.