University of Kansas researchers recently published an article showing that KU-32 can stop and even reverse diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or DPN, in mice. The condition leads to death of nerves in the extremities of individuals with diabetes. The drug is still in pre-clinical development. It will likely need another year or two of study, then the researchers hope it could be advanced to clinical trials in humans.
“People with DPN can be very sensitive to light touch, which can cause significant pain,” said Rick Dobrowsky, professor of pharmacology and toxicology and one of the paper’s authors. “The other side is eventually diabetes causes death of the nerves. DPN often leads to loss of feeling in the hands and feet, which can make diabetics susceptible to wounds and infections and often leads to amputations of toes and feet.” DPN is the second leading cause of amputations, after injuries.
The researchers administered KU-32 to diabetic mice. The compound stopped DPN and showed it could restore sensory neuron function to damaged nerve tissue. KU-32 inhibits a specific member of a family of proteins called molecular chaperones.
“These studies provide the first evidence that targeting molecular chaperones reverses the sensory hypoalgesia associated with DPN,” the authors wrote.
There are approximately 24 million diabetics in the United States. Dobrowsky said nearly 60 percent of them suffer from DPN at some point. The researchers hope that eventually the drug could be used to help to treat the condition in humans. Their research shows KU-32 can be administered orally as infrequently as once a week and still be effective. It has been shown to have long-term efficacy, meaning it could be administered in small doses, potentially reducing severity of side effects.
“Our tests so far indicate that KU-32 is completely nontoxic and is absorbed in the blood stream very well,” said Blagg. “It has long-term efficacy. It is a promising treatment.”
There are only two FDA-approved drugs used for treatment of DPN, Blagg said. However, one is an anticonvulsant and the other is an antidepressant, and neither has the potential to reverse nerve degeneration.