ANN ARBOR, Mich. – David Fink, M.D., chair of the University of Michigan Department of Neurology, has been awarded a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a new treatment for preventing nerve damage known as neuropathy.
Those with diabetes or undergoing cancer treatment are familiar with the potential for developing neuropathy which is damage to nerves projecting from the spinal cord to the skin. Neuropathy affects an estimated 20 million people in the United States alone.
It develops in almost half of patients with diabetes, and is frequently seen as a complication of chemotherapeutic drugs given for cancer. The resulting symptoms of numbness, often complicated by pain, significantly impair quality of life.
“To date there are no treatments that can prevent or reverse neuropathies caused by chemotherapeutic drugs or diabetes,” says Fink, the Robert Brear professor at the U-M.
In laboratory studies, Fink and his colleagues have shown that targeted delivery of neuroprotective, or neurotrophic, factors to the nerve using a gene transfer vehicle that they developed can prevent the onset and progression of nerve damage in animal models of diabetes and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy. Scientists refer to these vehicles capable of delivering genes into cells as vectors.
The new grant will allow the investigators to produce and characterize a neurotrophin-expressing vector that can be tested in patients.
“This is a case of ‘bench to bedside’ research,” Fink says. “The vector produced with the funding from the NIH will be used in a human trial that will begin at the conclusion of this project. That trial will allow us to determine whether the vector prevents nerve damage from chemotherapy in human subjects, as it does in animal models of the disease.”
Success in this proof-of-principle study in chemotherapy-caused neuropathy would set the stage for moving forward to test the treatment in the more common neuropathies like that caused by diabetes.
Fink’s co-principal investigator on the trial is Darren Wolfe, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Diamyd Inc., the company that will oversee construction and characterization of the vector.
The pre-clinical work was funded by grants to Fink, his co-investigator Marina Mata, M.D., professor of neurology at the U-M Health System, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.