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Dr. Yorek is chasing down diabetic neuropathy

November 2022

Neuropathy is a devastating diabetes complication that causes nerve damage throughout the body. This can lead to infection and/or amputation of the affected area. The most common type of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy. This affects the nerves in the hands, feet, legs, and arms. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes affecting about 50% of patients. Because early diagnosis is difficult, there is no effective treatment, as the neuropathy can only be detected after the nerve damage is already occurred. Thus, there is a need for a screening method for early detection of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Early detection would need to be coupled to effective therapies to slow the progression of neuropathy. Unfortunately, such therapies do not yet exist.

FOEDRC faculty member Mark Yorek, PhD, is making significant progress in creating better early detection and treatment of diabetic neuropathy. He and his team have recently published findings that the nerves of the cornea (the outer part of the eye) experience diabetic nerve damage before other parts of the body. Thus, testing the nerves of the cornea might provide a means for early detection of diabetic neuropathy. His group have also recently published practical methods to detect corneal nerve damage in animals and are now working to translate the detection methods to humans.

In a complementary line of research, Dr. Yorek and his laboratory have found that fish oil protects against diabetic neuropathy in rodents. This finding is the culmination of several years of research and has resulted in several recent breakthrough publications. As a result of these advances, his group has now partnered with a pharmaceutical company and the University of Michigan to begin a clinical trial in humans to test the ability of fish oil to protect against diabetic neuropathy in patients with diabetes. These are very exciting developments that we hope will lead to better detection and treatment of this devastating complication of diabetes.