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SFPN Discoveries: First Treatment That Could Improve Nerve Damage

Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander and Dr. Khosro Farhad have made it their life’s work to make their medical colleagues, and the public, aware of a new type of disease that may affect hundreds of millions around the globe – small-fiber polyneuropathy (SFPN).

Peripheral nerve specialists Dr. Oaklander, at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Farhad, at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, long have been intrigued by the large numbers of patients suffering from unexplained wide-ranging symptoms such as widespread chronic pain, chronic fatigue and digestive problems.

Trained separately at top hospitals, Johns Hopkins and Columbia Presbyterian, they are among only a handful of doctors in the country aware that these symptoms often could be explained by dysfunction of a specific type of peripheral nerve cells, the “small fibers.” These neurons, outside the brain and spinal cord, can’t be seen under a microscope and aren’t detected by common nerve damage tests.

“This is very complicated to work on, not only because our nerves are scattered throughout the body, but because small fibers have so many different types of jobs, that patients’ symptoms can vary widely,” says Dr. Oaklander, director of Mass General’s Nerve Unit and an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “You need to think outside the box because these small fibers affect all the other organs in the body.”

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