Even so, Taking a small piece of skin is not ideal, said Herrmann, associate professor of Neurology and of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. It can be painful for the patient; the processing can be time-consuming; and its impossible to measure the exact same area of skin year to year to track the progression of the disease.
A few years ago Herrmann met a scientist from Lucid, a medical device and information company that is creating tools for physicians based on innovative technologies such as confocal microscopy. The technology uses light to actually look beyond the surface of skin tissue into the layers of skin below. The technology is being used more and more to track skin cancers and to look at tissue samples in the operating room.
Herrmann and the Lucid team began a study of some of the tiniest nerves in our body, those that reach into the furthest reaches of our hands and feet. Damage to those nerves leads to a variety of troublesome symptoms for the millions of Americans who have some type of peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms in the feet and hands can include numbness, burning, tingling, weakness, and pain.
While diabetes is the most common cause of neuropathy, its caused by a variety of other conditions as well. Patients with HIV are prone to getting it. Excess alcohol consumption can bring it on, as can some vitamin deficiencies, cancer treatments, and dozens of inherited disorders, most notably Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
These patients are often dismissed, and many really suffer, said Herrmann. Diagnosis is often difficult. The small nerves in the skin are basically invisible to standard techniques for checking the function of a persons nerves, such as conduction tests.
So Herrmann lined up 15 little pinkies well, 15 research subjects willing to put their little pinkies under the microscope. The group included 10 healthy people, and
|Contact: Tom Rickey|
University of Rochester Medical Center