Gene therapy offers new hope for diabetic neuropathy
Diabetes can lead to nerve damage known as neuropathy that is painful, permanent, irreversible and progressive. The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy that occurs in the extremities is a feeling of numbness and tingling and sharp, stabbing pain, especially in the feet. Researchers at Northwestern University have uncovered a new way to help diabetics get relief from diabetic neuropathy.
Researchers for the study that included 84 patients found patients with diabetes who were given two low dose rounds of a non-viral gene therapy called VM202 reported pain relief for more than a year.
Rather than just treating symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, the gene therapy actually helps the body heal.
Diabetes nerve damage can make it difficult to sense injury, making it easy to injure fragile skin. A simple foot injury for some with diabetes can mean slower wound healing, greater risk of infection, risk for chronic foot ulcers, amputation, increased medical costs, and decreased quality of life.
The non-viral gene therapy helped patients experience sensation with just a light touch.
“Those who received the therapy reported more than a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms and virtually no side effects,” said Dr. Jack Kessler, lead author of the study. “Not only did it improve their pain, it also improved their ability to perceive a very, very light touch, " Kessler added in a press release.
How the therapy works
The researchers explain VM202 contains a gene known as human hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) that is responsible to keeping nerve fibers healthy and functioning.
Dr. Senda Ajroud-Driss, an author of the study said the hope is that the therapy will stimulate new blood vessel growth and nerve regeneration to reduce pain and heal the body.
Medications used to treat diabetic neuropathy can be expensive. Some have side effects that are intolerable including dizziness and mood changes.
Injections to treat the condition were administered twice during a two-week period for the study. The gene therapy is administered into the back of the calf muscle and lower leg. The study group received either the therapy or a placebo for comparison.
The finding is published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
The researchers are planning a phase III study in the near future. “Our goal is to develop a treatment. If we can show with more patients that this is a very real phenomenon, then we can show we have not only improved the symptoms of the disease, namely the pain, but we have actually improved function."
The study offers new hope for treating diabetic neuropathy that affects 2 to twenty-five percent of people diagnosed with diabetes. Gene therapy used in the research had no side effects and resulted in a 50 percent reduction of symptoms.