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New Ways to Fight Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Here at our Spring and Tomball, TX podiatry practices, we do everything we can to prevent diabetic foot ulcers. We know that this complication of diabetes affects as many as 15% of diabetic patients. And developing an ulcer is a major risk factor for foot amputations, or even death.

In fact, about half of the patients who lose a limb because of diabetic foot ulcers die within five years. And that’s just a terrifying outcome. For that reason, in our office, we lean into preventative diabetic foot care. As our patient James P. recently shared,

“I have been a patient for more than 10 years and have type I diabetes. Dr. Amy Walsh is very knowledgeable and friendly. She helps with making sure my shoes fit properly and that my feet stay in good shape. The staff are nice and prompt. Thanks for helping me take care of my feet!”

Of course, caring for your feet is our greatest pleasure. But we also want to know more about why ulcers form in the first place. And, for that reason, we’re very excited about a new study that could identify processes in your body that trigger this complication.

Getting to the Source of Diabetic Ulcers

studying source of diabetic foot ulcers

Photo by Hannah Gullixson on Unsplash

Like our Louetta Foot and Ankle podiatrists, researchers at the Emory School of Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) want to know why diabetics develop ulcers. And, to help them figure this out, they took foot cells from patients with healed ulcers. But they also took samples from patients whose ulcers didn’t heal. (As well as samples of arm skin from both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals.)

Next, they used a new technology called single-cell RNA sequencing. This helped them map the cellular differences between the patients whose ulcers healed and those whose wounds didn’t improve. And what they found taught us so much about how different genes express themselves in tissue that’s made up of several different cell types.

This was important because, as study co-author Aristidis Veves explained, we know many types of cells have to help heal diabetic ulcers. (These include endothelial cells, fibroblasts, keratinocytes and immune cells.) But we didn’t know what happens with those cells when patients’ ulcers don’t heal. Until we received the results of this new study.

Fibroblast Cells and Diabetic Ulcers

Now, we’ve learned that a specific type of fibroblast cell plays a major role in healing ulcers. For that reason, if your diabetic ulcer won’t heal, we could target those cell types to speed healing. Of course, developing new targeted treatments will take time. Yet researchers are already exploring new ways to heal your ulcers with fibroblasts.

Recently, a study from Laval University in Canada explored how to speed up fibroblast production to improve ulcer healing. Their findings? Applying low-level electricity to your diabetic ulcer helps boost fibroblast production and mobility. In turn, these cells improve early-stage wound healing. Ultimately, that should improve your overall healing time, though it will be a while before we see new electric healing options. Luckily, while we wait, there are other ways we can help your ulcers heal.

Diabetic Foot Care in Spring and Tomball, TX

Diabetic foot disease is progressive. And ulcers form in stages, too. Initially, you may notice tingling or numbness in your feet. After that, if pressure builds on your feet, corns or calluses may form. Then, if we don’t address those formations, they can turn into open sores (called ulcers.) Finally, if you don’t quickly seek intervention for an ulcer, infection can travel deep beneath your skin, affecting your tissue and bones. At that point, your risk for amputation increases dramatically.

Fortunately, if you stick with quarterly office visits, and at-home daily foot checks, we should be able to keep ulcers from ever forming. That’s why we want you to follow our guide to at-home diabetic foot care. We also urge you to come into the office at least four times a year for a thorough foot exam. But, if problems develop between visits, don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment. Instead, contact us immediately and tell us you have a diabetic foot concern. We’ll get you into the office right away, so we can help prevent diabetic ulcers from ever forming.


Journal of Nature Communications