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New study brings fresh hope to sufferers of diabetic neuropathy

Scientists at Staffordshire University are a step closer to understanding how foot problems experienced by diabetes patients can lead to life threatening ulcers.

A study led by Dr Roozbeh Naemi, Associate Professor in Biomechanics at Staffordshire University, has demonstrated a link between the mechanical properties of soft tissue on the sole of the feet and foot ulceration.

Working with patients in India who suffer with diabetic neuropathy – a type of nerve damage affecting the feet – researchers used ultrasound elastography to measure the soft tissue stiffness of the heel pad under the foot.

The results, which are published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, reveal that the patients with active ulcers had a significantly lower heel pad stiffness compared to the patients without foot ulcers.

Dr Naemi said “Our data contributes to understanding the role of tissue biomechanics in the formation of ulcers under the foot in patients with diabetes”.

“These results pave the way for identifying the link between the mechanical properties of the tissue and development of ulcers to allow for early intervention and clinical management of feet complications in diabetes patients.”

On average, 300 new foot ulcers are diagnosed every day in the UK and 120 people undergo an amputation each week. Although ulcers are preventable, prognosis for diabetes patients suffering with foot ulcers is poor.

Nachi Chockalingam, Professor of Clinical Biomechanics added: “This is a landmark finding, which can contribute to the development of diagnostic tools and treatment options for patients with diabetes and neuropathy.”

“I am pleased that our portfolio of work is not only helping patients with treatment options using footwear interventions but also helping the clinicians to identify patients who are at risk of developing foot ulcers. Ultimately this could substantially reduce the annual bill for amputations and the significant costs of treating each foot ulcer.”

The study was conducted at AR Hospitals in Chennai, South India – with 39 patients, 10 of which had active foot ulcers. The study forms part of the wider EU funded DiaBSmart project which was dedicated to discovering new foot-friendly materials which can be used to prevent painful and life threatening diabetic foot ulcers.

Article: Differences in the mechanical characteristics of plantar soft tissue between ulcerated and non-ulcerated foot, Roozbeh Naemi, Panagiotis Chatzistergos, Lakshmi Sundar, Nachiappan Chockalingam, Ambadi Ramachandran, Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, doi:10.1016/j.jdiacomp.2016.06.003, published online 8 June 2016.