PhD study to investigate whether new biomarker can detect nerve damage in feet earlier
Diabetic neuropathy, which permanently damages nerves including those to the skin and muscles of the feet, is often not noticed until the damage is too widespread. A new biomarker may become a uniform method of early detection and follow-up.
Diabetic neuropathy (DN) is the commonest late complication of diabetes. The condition is associated with higher morbidity, higher mortality and impaired quality of life. There is no clear clinical definition of diabetic neuropathy, nor are there to date any biomarkers able to detect and track the development of the condition. Doctor Laura Linnea Määttä will spend the next three years working at Aarhus University and the Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus on a PhD project - which has been awarded DKK 1.1 million by the Danish Diabetes Academy - to investigate whether the axonal cytoskeletal protein neurofilament light chain (NfL), secreted into the blood when nerve damage occurs, is a potential new biomarker.
‘A biomarker will offer a practicable, uniform method of early detection and follow-up of DN that can make early intervention possible and should help boost motivation to achieve good overall diabetes care for the individual. The result of a biomarker measurement is quick and easy for clinicians to interpret and easy to communicate to patients’, says Laura Linnea Määttä, adding that a biomarker will provide a uniform, objective measure that can be used in research for comparing the effects of interventions across study populations.
Three months’ study at the University of Oxford
Laura Linnea Määttä will investigate the properties of NfL as a biomarker in three different study populations. She will do this via a longitudinal analysis of the NfL levels of participants in the Danish ADDITION study, and by examining the results of the British PiNS study. Finally, studies of 200 patients from the Diabetic Foot Clinic at the Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus will show the relationship between NfL levels and the presence, severity and progression of diabetic foot ulcers.
‘While there is solid evidence for NfL as a sensitive, broad-spectrum marker for central nervous system diseases, little is known about the marker’s ability to detect diseases in the peripheral nervous system. Recent studies have shown that the level of blood-borne NfL reflects the presence and severity of both congenital and acquired peripheral neuropathies, and new technology makes it possible to measure very low concentrations of NfL in the blood’, explains Laura Linnea Määttä, who will be carrying out research under Professor David Bennet at the University of Oxford’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences for three months from December 2021.
The principal supervisor of the PhD project is Professor Troels Staehelin Jensen of the Danish Pain Research Center, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University. During her medical training, Laura Linnea Määttä was a member of the professor’s research group. While there, among other topics, she worked on the ADDITION study, with which she is therefore thoroughly familiar.
By Pernille Fløjstrup Andersen, Communications Officer, DDA
Laura Linnea Määttä, MSc. in medicine, born 1991
Has been awarded DKK 1.1 million by the Danish Diabetes Academy.
PhD project title: A novel biomarker to assess presence and progression of diabetic neuropathy
Research centres: Department of Public Health, Aarhus University / University of Oxford, UK
Contact: +45 42512700
Contact Danish Diabetes Academy
Managing Director Tore Christiansen
Phone: +45 2964 6764