Relief for Diabetic Neuropathy

People suffering from painful diabetic neuropathy found relief through nonviral gene therapy, with results lasting for months, researchers said.

Investigators from Northwestern University Medicine found that people who got two low-dose rounds of the non-viral gene therapy called VM202 reported “significant improvement” in their symptoms.

The results were published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

According to a release from Northwestern Medicine, there is no treatment now for the disease that affects 20 to 25 percent of diabetics. Patients with the most extreme form of neuropathy feel intense pain with just a slight graze or touch. At its most serious, the pain can interfere with daily activities, sleep, mood and can diminish overall quality of life.

“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 is the Ken and Ruth Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology in the department of neurology and a professor in the department of pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

VM202 contains the human hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) gene, a naturally occurring protein in the body that helps keep cells, alive and functioning. Growth factor is a naturally occurring protein in the body that acts on cells — in this case nerve cells — to keep them alive, healthy and functioning. The investigators said more study is needed to determine if the therapy could actually reverse neuropathy.

“We are hoping that the treatment will increase the local production of hepatocyte growth factor to help regenerate nerves and grow new blood vessels and therefore reduce the pain,” said Dr. Senda Ajroud-Driss, associate professor in neurology at Feinberg, an attending physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an author of the study.

In the study, eighty-four people with PDN went to a clinic twice in a two-week timespan for a series of injections into the back of their calf muscles and lower legs. Some received injections of a saline placebo, others a low dose of the therapy and others a higher dose.

“We found that the patients who received the low dose had a better reduction in pain than the people who received the high dose or the placebo,” Ajroud-Driss said.

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