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New Treatment for Diabetes Tested

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(NBC News) -- Experts are now testing a new form a treatment for diabetes. Diabetes can result in heart disease, kidney failure, blindness or neuropathy.

But a new treatment could make life much less painful for those who suffer from diabetes.

It looks deceptively simple but a neurologic exam like this is how doctors often first detect nerve damage called neuropathy. The patient may not even realize it as it starts out as numbness... Then can progress to worse... As in diabetics like Donald Singh.

Donald Singh, Diabetic: "Well, tingling and um, you know, cramps. Sometimes it will kind of freeze like stiff like the blood just don't wanna go through. You know, you know it's, you know, funny feelings, you know? (uncomfortable, painful?) Uncomfortable and painful, yes, sure."

Worse yet, when diabetics can't feel their feet, they're prone to infections and skin ulcerations.... Which are the leading cause of amputations in diabetics. It all starts out with their high levels of blood sugar called glucose.

Dr. Thomas Brannagan, Neurologist: "To treat the underlying neuropathy in diabetes is just good glucose control, but for many people that's difficult to do and and even uh very good glucose control can still result in neuropathy"

Turns out glucose isn't the direct culprit...that blood sugar gets converted in the body to a type of sugar-alcohol that's toxic to nerve fibers. So doctors are testing an experimental drug called Ranirestat that blocks the enzyme that turns glucose into alcohol. In a small preliminary study, the drug caused few side effects and...

Dr. Thomas Brannagan, Neurologist: "In actually just three months, there was noted to be improvement in nerve conduction studies, which is a way that we uh measure nerve function, and there was also improvement in the neurological examination."

Donald is taking part in the double blind study, meaning he doesn't know if he's taking the active drug or a placebo... But he says he feels better.

Donald Singh, Diabetic: "I'm not getting any cramps anymore. Uh I don't get all those tingling and all that all that kind of funny sensation that I was getting before."

Dr. Max Gomez for NBC news.

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