The University of Notre Dame have received a $4.6 million from the Department of Defense as a team of “Fighting Irish” scientists have uncovered a drug that may save the limbs and lives of people with diabetes. The investigational drug combats the root cause of diabetic-based foot amputations: diabetic foot ulcers. With the money in place the investigators have also launched a start up to commercialize with the hopes of entering clinical trials within two years.
The prevalence of diabetes among U.S. veterans is higher than the diseases heavy burden on U.S. adults. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports 27% of veterans 65 and older have diabetes. And diabetic foot ulcers are a relatively common occurrence for those with the disease—one in four will develop the wounds. High glucose levels lead to neuropathy causing numbness in the foot. Consequently minor wounds undetected can lead to ulcers leading to a dangerous domino effect.
Notoriously difficult to heal they can often lead to tragic outcomes—resulting in about 100,000 lower limb amputations per year. About half of those that go through this procedure die after one year.
Dr. Mayland Chang and other team members including Notre Dame Navari Family Professor in Life Sciences Dr. Shahriar Mobashery have intensely studied the science of wounds and may have cracked the code for a treatment. They have focused on the fact that normal wounds go through a cycle of inflammation ending up with formation of new blood vessels and ultimately repaired tissue. However, with diabetes the wounds are “stuck” in inflammation mode and fail to heal.
The team started experimenting with growth factors. The idea was to “promote blood vessel formation, hoping to push the cycle into healing” reported Dr. Chang. However the root cause of the problem still remained: “that the wounds were stuck at the inflammation stage” noted Chang. The Fighting Irish-based team have found a culprit precluding the proper healing of wounds: an enzyme called MMP-9.
A Breakthrough: Block and Heal
The Notre Dame team uncovered MMP-8, a second enzyme, that promotes healing. This findings turned the lightbulb on for the new focus of study—they actually used a topical gel to create a drug that blocks detrimental MMP-9 enzyme while enabling MMP-8 to do its thing—that is promote the healing of the wound.
The team has formed a startup venture called SalvePeds (saving feet in Latin). Based in South Bend, IN, it venture won a prize at BioCrossroads’ New Venture Competition last year. Chang believes that the DOD funding will mean “the drug will see the light” and move to clinical trials within two years.
SalvePeds is based on the investigational drug developed at University of Notre Dame. They seek to address the one million annual new foot diabetic foot ulcers diagnosed annually. The founders include Dr. Chang and Dr. Mobashery.
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