Researchers at Griffith University will undertake a comprehensive assessment of nerve function of people with diabetes to learn more about the onset of peripheral neuropathy.

Neuropathy is the highest reported complication of diabetes worldwide. The most common form of neuropathy is distal symmetrical neuropathy. It causes significant suffering, including loss of sensation in the feet and eventually in the hands.

Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, according to Diabetes Australia, and around half of those people could be expected to develop some type of neuropathy. The number of people with diabetes has experienced a fourfold increase, from 108 million adults worldwide in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

Although diabetic neuropathies are common, surprisingly little is known about the condition and its onset, which is why Eva Sierra Silvestre is leading the DIANE (Diabetic neuropathies) research project, which will assess the function, structure and mechanics of the nervous system in people with diabetes.

“What we are planning to do is to create a very comprehensive assessment of nerve function in people with diabetes,” she said. “By doing that, we may be able to predict or be able to improve prevention and management later on.”

An issue with this condition and current screening practices is that sometimes the onset can go unnoticed, so the study will aim to find ways to pick up on peripheral neuropathy in its early stages.

“Early detection of diabetic complications is crucial for an effective management of the condition,” Ms Sierra Silvestre, a PhD candidate at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, said.

In research, nerve function in the feet has been studied more than in hands. Typically, it is thought that hands are affected in a later stage but the research team thinks that these changes may occur earlier than what we think. As such, the DIANE research project will focus on assessing subjects’ hands for any sign of nerve damage.

The researchers are looking for people with diabetes, with and without symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as numbness or pain.

Participants will be required to attend three sessions, one each at Griffith University’s Nathan campus, QUT at Kelvin Grove, and QScan at Red Hill.

To learn more about the study, visit the DIANE Diabetic Neuropathies research project website.

Ms Sierra Silvestre’s study is one of two ongoing into peripheral neuropathies at Griffith University. Dr Brooke Coombes is also looking for study participants as she investigates a new approach to managing exercise for people with the condition.