Could This Ointment Treat Diabetic Neuropathy?

A new study from Northwestern University could mean relief for the countless individuals who suffer from diabetic neuropathy.

The study, published in Molecular Pain, focuses on a chemical known as GM3. Researchers targeted GM3 in diabetic mice.

Originally, the team noticed that those mice, who were obese as well as diabetic, had much higher levels of GM3 compared to healthier mice. Additionally, the diabetic mice showed evidence of nerve pain, similar to neuropathy. "The routine diabetic mice had nerve changes that intensified their pain sensation,” said lead researcher Dr. Amy Paller. “[T]hey experienced a lot of pain with just a light touch.”

However, Paller noted that once the GM3 was depleted in the diabetic mice, “they didn't withdraw their feet (suggesting pain) any more quickly than the mice without diabetes.” This finding is a remarkable breakthrough for the diabetes community; discovering the source of nerve pain caused by neuropathy is likely the beginning of discovering a way to end it.

Human Application

And ending nerve pain is precisely what Paller and her team hope to do. Currently, they are working on an ointment that will not only deplete GM3 levels in humans, but will also deplete GM3 synthase in the nerves – the enzyme that produces GM3.

This ointment takes a novel approach to neuropathy treatment, which up to this point has sought to mask the pain instead of remove it entirely. “Our long-term goal would be to further test safety and advance to human clinical trials to prevent and/or reverse the development of diabetic neuropathy,” Dr. Paller said in the University's press release.

Diabetic neuropathy affects nearly 25 percent of people with diabetes with over 3 million new cases diagnosed each year. A treatment that can really bring an end to the pain, numbness, and other discomfort of this complication would mean a new lease on life for many, many people.

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