New Drug Halts Debilitating Diabetic Condition

Drug reverses nerve damage in mice caused by neuropathy

(RxWiki News) A new drug called KU-32 from the University of Kansas has been shown to halt and even reverse diabetic peripheral neuropathy in mice. DPN, a debilitating condition that leads to nerve death, results in pain in the extremities and sometimes amputations.

Symptoms of DPN include tingling, numbness and loss of sensation in the arms and legs. People with DPN can also develop extreme sensitivity to touch that can cause significant pain. Diabetics are often initially diagnosed with the disease after experiencing DPN symptoms.  

“DPN often leads to loss of feeling in the hands and feet, which can make diabetics susceptible to wounds and infections,” said Rick Dobrowsky, professor of pharmacology and toxicology and one of the lead researchers in the study.

Researchers in the study administered KU-32 to diabetic mice, which stopped DPN and even restored sensory neuron function to damaged nerve tissue by inhibiting a specific member of a family of proteins called molecular chaperones. The event marks the first evidence that “targeting molecular chaperones reverses the sensory hypoalgesia associated with DPN,” according to the authors. (Hypoalgesia refers to a diminished sensation of pain resulting from a raised pain threshold.)

Tests so far reveal the drug, which could be administered orally as little as once a week and still be effective, to be nontoxic and adequately absorbed in the blood stream.

The drug’s long-term efficacy potentially means it could be taken in small doses that reduce the severity of any side effects.

Two FDA-approved drugs are currently used to treat DPN – an anticonvulsant and an antidepressant – but neither have been shown to effectively reverse nerve degeneration. 

The developers of KU-32, which is still in pre-clinical development, aren’t yet certain whether the drug improves existing nerve fibers or generates new ones.

“The idea is to try to determine at what point in nerve degeneration will be most effective and at what point the drug will not be efficacious,” Dobrowsky said.

Researchers hope to advance to clinical trials in humans in a year or two.

There are approximately 24 million diabetics in the United States, about 60 percent of which will suffer from DPN at some point. The condition ranks as the second-leading cause of amputations, after injuries.

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Review Date: 
September 14, 2010