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Diabetes Complications

Zinc-Fingered Therapy

Neuropathy is such a common and painful complication of diabetes that I watch out for all research reports about it, no matter now preliminary. Half of all of us who have diabetes have some form of neuropathy.

Phase 1 research that points the way to reversing diabetic neuropathy is worth paying attention to, even though it is years from becoming available to most of us (Learn about clinical trials here). Two posters presented at last month’s American Diabetes Association’s 66th Scientific Sessions in Washington, D.C., which HealthCentral.com sent me to cover, couldn’t fail to grab my attention.
The posters, 1989-PO and 7-LB (You can find them by searching here), reported that 18 people with diabetic neuropathy had less pain and numbness after their treatment. All side effects were mild. The treatment was a drug that Sangamo BioSciences Inc. in Richmond, California, is developing.

A press release that the company sent me after the ADA meeting says that it has the “potential for nerve regeneration”. If proven in subsequent clinical trials, that would be big news indeed, since until now researchers have believed diabetic neuropathy to be irreversible.

Sangamo BioSciences call this drug SB-509. They say that it is a formulation of a zinc-finger DNA-binding protein transcription factor. While I don’t fully understand what zinc fingers do, I admit that this name grabbed my attention even before I became aware of the significance of the Sangamo BioSciences therapy.

Names and titles and headlines can be as important as the content of term papers and articles, one of my favorite professors at Claremont Graduate University, Dr. John Vieg, kept telling me. But it is a special skill, as I learned when I was an editor of a business magazine. There one of our researchers who couldn’t write at all usually came up with the best headline in our brain-storming sessions.

I may not be the best in writing titles and headlines, but I do appreciate a good one when I see it. Whoever coined zinc finger had that naming skill. He or she ranks right up there with the person who named the sonic hedgehog. My friend Gretchen Becker, who reads widely in the technical medical literature, told me about a couple more such terms, the Indy or I’m Not Dead Yet gene that extends the lifespan of fruit flies and the topless gene.

I wonder if they make up these strange names just so we can remember them better. It sure works with me. Let’s hope that this therapy for diabetic neuropathy proves to be as good as its name.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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