June 24, 2011

Fixing Diabetic Nerve Damage

(Ivanhoe Newswire)--Feelings of painful tingling, burning, and numbness in the hands and feet can be reflective of major nerve damage. About twenty percent of diabetics experience these symptoms, know as neuropathy, which can sometimes lead to infections and amputations of the toes, fingers, hands, and feet. However, in a recent study conducted at Johns Hopkins, blood vessels and supporting cells appeared to be pivotal partners in repairing nerves damaged by diabetic neuropathy.

Current treatments for diabetic neuropathy focus on relieving the painful symptoms but do not address the cause of and way to repair nerve damage. Research has shown that nerve cells' long extensions regenerate more slowly in diabetics. Michael Polydefkis, M.D., M.H.S., associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and assistant professor of neurology Gigi Ebenezer, M.B.B.S., M.D., and their colleagues have been searching for the reasons behind this slow regeneration process.

In their study, they recruited ten patients with diabetic neuropathy and ten healthy people of similar ages. They took tiny biopsies from the skin of each of the patient's thigh. Several months later, they took a slightly bigger biopsy from the same site to see how the nerves, blood vessels and nerve-supporting calls, called Schwann cells, were growing back.

For both of the groups, results reported that the first to grow into the healing skin were blood vessels, followed soon after by the nerve-supporting cells, and then the nerve cells long extensions, which appeared to use the blood vessels as scaffolds. The entire process however, was delayed for patients with neuropathy.

Polydefkis was quoted saying, "Our results suggest that the regenerative abnormalities associated with diabetes are widespread. They're not just affecting nerves-they-re also affecting blood vessel growth and Schwann cell proliferation."

He went on to say that these findings could explain why blood vessel related problems, such as heart attacks and strokes, often accompany diabetes. These findings could provide potential new targets for treating neuropathy and other vascular related problems. By promoting the growth of blood vessels and Schwann cells, researchers may be able to speed up regeneration and successfully repair damaged nerves and blood vessels.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, June 21, 2011