Tracking nerve damage - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Tracking nerve damage

Madison (WKOW) -- Nerve disorders have many causes.

  What's common among most is that nerve damage is progressive and checking on it hurts.

  But now, there's a new way to track nerve destruction.

  A nerve disorder means Mark Farruggia's life is no walk in the park.

  He said, "grade school and high school I couldn't run. I couldn't play sports because every time I did, I was tripping."

  Mark has an inherited type of peripheral neuropathy, a famly of disorders that affects nerves we use constantly.

  Doctor David Herrmann said, "we have motor nerves that go to our muscles and give them strength. We have sensory nerves that go to our skin."

  Patients with peripheral neuropathies need to know if their disease is progressing.

  Doctor Herrmann added, "but a limitation of some of the traditional tests is they have not been able to look at the nerve endings in the skin."

  The best test, a skin biopsy, is painful.

  So Doctor Herrmann and his colleagues are working on a non-invasive way to examine the nerves.

  "One technique that we've been looking at is called in vivo confocal reflectance microscopy," added Doctor Herrmann.

  The microscope is connected to the hand or foot.

  Then a low-level laser beam helps reveal the extent of nerve damage in the skin's touch receptors.

  Doctor Herrmann said, "understanding their density or the number of them in the skin and their health is potentially useful to identify and detect peripheral neuropathy and monitor it over time."

  This type of imaging could identify new neuropathy patients and help existing ones.

  He also added,  "that will allow us to monitor nerve disease more efficiently, painlessly and rapidly over time."

  Giving patients, like Mark, an up close and personal view of their nerves.

  Doctor Herrmann says the technique has to undergo further testing before it's used as a diagnostic or tracking tool.

  To give you some perspective on the size of the peripheral neuropathy problem, about half of all diabetics will develop neuropathy.

  In this country alone, that means about 20-million people will suffer from peripheral nerve damage.

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