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Using artificial intelligence to predict foot pain

Project summary

People with diabetes can develop problems with their feet, called neuropathy. Some people experience chronic pain alongside this, but we don’t yet know why. Professor David Bennet will use machine learning to identify risk factors for painful neuropathy and develop a ‘calculator’ that could help to spot people at risk. This research could help to develop new treatments and allow doctors to better support those at greatest risk.

Background to research

Having diabetes means you’re at a greater risk of developing foot problems. This is because high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves in your feet, known as neuropathy.

Around half of people with diabetes who have neuropathy develop chronic pain, which can have a huge impact on quality of life. It’s vital we understand why some people with this complication develop pain, so we can find ways to stop or prevent it.

Research aims

Professor Bennet wants to identify the most important risk factors for painful neuropathy, so we can spot who is most at risk. He’ll explore factors directly related to diabetes, like blood glucose levels, but also important psychological factors, such as anxiety and depression.

Professor Bennet and his team will use machine learning: a process where computers use data to study the complex relationships between different risk factors and ‘learn’ from this. They will use data from two studies of people with painful and painless neuropathy.

They’ll test different factors, and combinations of factors, to find the best mixture and develop a ‘calculator’ that can predict who will be at risk of painful neuropathy.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

By shedding light on the biology and psychology behind chronic foot pain in people with diabetes, this research could help scientists to find new ways to tackle this debilitating complication.

It could also help healthcare professionals to spot who is most at risk and direct support to where it’s most needed. This could help people with diabetes to reduce their pain and hugely improve their quality of life.

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