RESEARCHERS in Yorkshire are launching a study which could help revolutionise the way doctors treat pain facing thousands of people suffering from diabetes.
The £310,000 study in Sheffield is the first to investigate how the brain processes pain often caused by diabetes, potentially paving the way for new therapies in the future.
Diabetes affects more than three million people in the UK, with more than 600,000 suffering from painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage causing pain, particularly in the feet.
Experts have found drug treatment for the condition to be elusive because it is still not known what causes the pain.
Previous research in Sheffield has shown that an area of the brain called the thalamus plays a crucial role in the condition, becoming engorged with blood in those with the condition. But it remains unclear why patients experience the pain and what the role of the thalamus is.
The three-year study aims to establish whether the abnormal pattern of blood flow is causing the pain, or whether it is actually a response to the pain itself.
Consultant physician Prof Solomon Tesfaye, who will lead the team of researchers from Sheffield teaching hospitals and Sheffield University, said: “Painful diabetic neuropathy is a debilitating condition, often severely limiting a person’s quality of life.
“Around 50 per cent of people with the condition suffer from anxiety or depression and it is commonly associated with loss of sleep and unemployment.
“It’s therefore vital that we do everything we can to try to find the precise cause of the pain and to try to develop therapies against it.
“The study could potentially lead to us developing new treatments that specifically target this area of the brain, which of course would be an exciting development for patients and clinicians alike.”
The study, at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, will compare five different groups of 100 people. It is being funded by the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes and healthcare firm Novo Nordisk.