Breakthrough reported by scientists in diabetic neuropathy pain management
It is thought the discovery could "significantly improve the lives of people" with this relatively common complication of diabetes.
The study, which was carried out in Germany, discovered a chemical agent applied to the skin of mice helped block nerve channels which trigger pain.
Whilst there is no known way to repair damage nerve cells, the researchers hope that their findings could pave the way to find a drug in the future which might treat the pain that results from nerve damage.
Some symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include numbness or stabbing pains in the affected areas and the condition can be so extreme that even the slightest touch to the skin is extremely painful.
Senior Australian co-author Dr Kate Poole, who conducted the research at the Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Germany, said: "While a potential new treatment for the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy is still some years away, the research is an important first step in changing the accepted thinking around how to treat the condition.
"Directly targeting nerve receptors in the skin could help manage pain in a way that does not trigger the negative side effects of drugs that act on the body's central nervous system, which is how most current treatments work."
Senior co-author Professor Gary Lewin, from the Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine, added: "If human patients respond the same way, this will represent a major step in treating a neuropathology that has a devastating effect on the lives of many people."
Dr Poole has recently received a grant which will allow her to continue her research and see whether similar molecules can also help.
She said: "We will be studying force sensing molecules in the cells that make our cartilage to see if we can identify a way to reverse the cartilage damage that occurs when people develop osteoarthritis.
"This also involves going back to the drawing board to look more closely at force sensing proteins in other cells and tissues so we can increase our understanding of how human cells sense their physical surroundings."
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
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