The treatment might also reduce the number of amputations of toes and feet if early effects on nerve protection and regeneration are borne out long-term. Nerve disease in diabetes is the major cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations in Europe and North America.
Scientists at The University of Manchester, working with colleagues at American biotech firm Sangamo BioSciences Inc, have discovered a way of stimulating genes that prevent nerve damage caused by the disease.
Professor David Tomlinson, who is leading the research in Manchester, says the study has massive potential for the management of diabetic neuropathies or nerve disorders.
"Diabetic neuropathy is a major problem in insulin-dependent diabetes, particularly in patients who have had the disease for a period of time," said Professor Tomlinson, who is based in the University's Faculty of Life Sciences.
"This approach to gene therapy is quite different to previous attempts at treatment as we do not inject a gene that produces a 'foreign' copy of a therapeutic protein. This is the normal approach and has problems from immunological side-effects.
"Instead, we turn on the patient's own gene to produce a natural version of this therapeutically beneficial protein. The most significant advantage of this is that the protein is made as if the patient's body had made it naturally.
"Our study has shown that a single treatment with a DNA-binding protein protected against nerve damage that in humans can lead to limb loss."
The results of the pre-clinical studies were recently presented to the American Diabetes Association in California and the first phase of clinical trials has now begun.
An estimated 50 per cent of patients with long-term diabetes develop some form of neuropathy that can cause numbness and sometimes
Source:University of Manchester