Researchers in Sheffield have been awarded over £310,000 to carry out a study that could help revolutionise the way clinicians treat the pain experienced by thousands of people with diabetes.
The research represents the first major study to investigate how the brain processes the pain often caused by diabetes, potentially paving the way for new therapies in the future.
The team of researchers from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the University of Sheffield, led by Professor Solomon Tesfaye, Consultant Physician and Honorary Professor of Diabetic Medicine, has been awarded the grant by the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD) and healthcare provider Novo Nordisk.
Diabetes now affects over three million people in the UK, with more than 600,000 of these suffering from painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage of diabetes causing pain, particularly in the feet. However, drug treatment has been elusive due to the fact that it is still not known exactly 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 that have painful neuropathy. However, it is unclear why patients with the condition experience the pain and what the role of the thalamus is.
The aim of the study is therefore to establish whether the abnormal pattern of blood flow in the thalamus is causing the pain, or whether it is actually a response to the pain itself.
Professor Solomon Tesfaye said: “Painful diabetic neuropathy is a debilitating condition, often severely limiting a person’s quality of life. Around 50% 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.