Meg Farris / Medical Reporter
NEWORLEANS - There is a high number of people in this area who have type 2 diabetes, and that condition can affect the nerves in the feet and legs, causing wounds that don't heal and even amputations.
But now a local company, and a local doctor from Tulane, believe they have a potential treatment.
Mother and fifth grade school teacher, Susan Doell, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes right before Hurricane Katrina.
'Well, it didn't surprise me because there's a hereditary factor there, but also I had gestational diabetes,' said Doell, who lives in Metairie.
Over the years, the medicine didn't control her blood sugar that well, so this year she began taking insulin injections. But earlier on, within a year of her diagnosis, she noticed tingling sensations in her feet. Her diabetes was causing nerve damage called neuropathy.
'I started feeling the tingling, the tingling that you get and then you don't notice it at first because it's a slow onset. It's like one day, it almost feels like pins and needles at some point and then it gets to be where it's not as active. You don't feel that, that tingle anymore. It's more of a dull tingle,' Doell described.
Later it progressed to stabbing pains.
'It's all of a sudden you can be sitting there and then you just want to like jump out of your skin and it's only in one spot. I remember the first time that I felt it. I was driving and it was in my right foot and you're in the middle of Veterans Highway (Blvd.) and there's no place to go and you have to drive like this and you just want to scream and holler and there's nothing you can do about it,' she remembers.
'Neuropathy is extremely common in people with diabetes. The estimates for about 60, 70 percent of people sometime over their lifetime will have some nerve damage. Sometimes pain is good because it tells you there's something wrong and if you don't feel it, it's very dangerous because those people are at risk for amputations,' explained Dr. Vivian Fonseca the Chief of Endocrinology at Tulane Medical Center.
Complications of the foot is the number one reason why people with diabetes go to the hospital. In fact every day in the United States, 225 people with diabetes, that's almost enough to fill up a 747 jet, have a lower limb amputation.
There's medicine for neuropathy pain but nothing for numbness and nothing that shows the damaged nerve can change or get better. But now a company in Covington called Pamlab, LLC., believes it is the first to have a possible treatment.
'The patients were starting to feel their feet again and feel the tingling and the burning that they had completely lost when they were at the stage of having no feeling whatsoever, and not even knowing they'd drive a nail through their foot and not even know they'd done it,' said Harold Koch, the Senior Vive-President of Scientific Affairs and Chief Scientific Officer of Pamlab, LLC.
It's a medical food called Metanx. The small purple pill is a higher dose of three types of vitamin B found naturally in food. You need a prescription since it's not the synthetic or over-the-counter supplement form of vitamin B. Double-blinded scientific studies were recently done at six sites across the U.S. to test it. Dr. Fonseca was the lead investigator.
'There was actually a small improvement with placebo because sometimes when you come in frequently to the doctor, you feel a little better. But there was a significantly better improvement with this drug,' Dr Fonseca said of the findings with Metanx.
'We're not only treating pain to an extent, but we're also treating the actual condition itself by increasing the blood flow, bringing sensation back,' said Koch.
Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge did the same study on rats and could see improvements in the nerve's structure. Dr. Fonseca says while Metanx is safe, he would like to see more studies because there are unanswered questions.
As for Susan, she says her daily routine, and even walking, is easier using Metanx.
'When I'm not on it, I know that there's a difference. That's basically what I can tell you,' said Doell.
The pills cost $80 a month. Some insurance companies will pay a small amount toward the cost. One is taken two times a day.
Another free follow-up study on Metanx will start in January. Doctors are looking for people with diabetes who have nerve pain, numbness, tingling and/or burning, and shooting and/or stabbing pains in their feet.
Call toll free 1-888-831-7333 to see if you qualify.
Dr. Fonseca hopes to publish his study and findings in a scientific journal. One is reviewing his study now.
Pamlab says it wants to increase awareness of the most common diabetes complication, diabetic neuropathy. Many foot complications can be prevented with thorough foot care. Here are some simple tips for diabetes patients.
Check your feet daily for cuts, sores, bruises, or any abnormalities. Use a mirror or have a family member assist if needed.
Wash your feet daily using WARM water and soap. Test water temperature with your elbow, as hot water can burn your hands and feet (without you realizing it because of nerve damage).
If your feet are cold at night, wear socks; do not use a heating pad or hot water bottles.
Never go barefooted, especially outdoors.