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A pain-free window into painful neuropathies
Date:12/5/2007

Scientists have demonstrated a new technique for detecting a painful nerve condition known as neuropathy, which affects millions of people with diabetes and many other patients as well.

The painless technique focuses on tiny structures in the skin known as Meissner corpuscles, which encapsulate the endings of microscopic nerves in our hands, feet, and other areas. When someone tickles your feet, or lightly brushes the palm of your hand, or gives you a kiss its Meissner corpuscles that are detecting the touch. The tiny structures act like little sensors, allowing us to feel light touch and pressure.

Now a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, working together with scientists from Lucid Technologies in Rochester, N.Y., has demonstrated a new way to monitor the structures, which offer a direct window into a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. The team showed that reflectance confocal microscopy, a technology for looking just beneath the surface of the skin, can be used to see and count the number of the structures in a persons fingers and hands. The work gives doctors a non-invasive way to detect and monitor the progression of nerve damage in patients.

The research appears in the December 4 issue of the journal Neurology.

Doctors have known that the number and density of Meissner corpuscles in a persons hands and feet offer a snapshot into the degree of a patients nerve damage. As nerves degenerate and die, the corpuscles disappear. The difficulty has been actually visualizing and counting them.

Currently, doctors take a small biopsy of the skin, freeze and stain the tissue, and then count the structures. Neurologist David Herrmann, MBBCh, the lead author of the Neurology paper, helped develop and popularize skin biopsy about 10 years ago as a way to keep close track of the condition of nerves in patients. At the time, for some forms of peripheral neuropathy, it was a big improvement over pr
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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