Huntington’s breakthrough may stop disease | Sunday Observer

Huntington’s breakthrough may stop disease

Peter has Huntington’s disease and his siblings Sandy and Frank also have the gene
Peter has Huntington’s disease and his siblings Sandy and Frank also have the gene

The defect that causes the neurodegenerative disease Huntington’s has been corrected in patients for the first time, the BBC has learned.

An experimental drug, injected into spinal fluid, safely lowered levels of toxic proteins in the brain. The research team, at University College London, say there is now hope the deadly disease can be stopped. Experts say it could be the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases for 50 years.

Huntington’s is one of the most devastating diseases. Some patients described it as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and motor neurone disease rolled into one. Peter Allen, 51, is in the early stages of Huntington’s and took part in the trial: “You end up in almost a vegetative state, it’s a horrible end.”

Huntington’s blights families. Peter has seen his mum Stephanie, uncle Keith and grandmother Olive die from it. Tests show his sister Sandy and brother Frank will develop the disease. The three siblings have eight children - all young adults, each of whom has a 50-50 chance of developing the disease.

The treatment is designed to silence the gene. On the trial, 46 patients had the drug injected into the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. The procedure was carried out at the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Doctors did not know what would happen. One fear was the injections could have caused fatal meningitis.

But the first in-human trial showed the drug was safe, well tolerated by patients and crucially reduced the levels of huntingtin in the brain. Prof Sarah Tabrizi, the lead researcher and director of the Huntington’s Disease Centre at UCL, told the BBC: “I’ve been seeing patients in clinic for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen many of my patients over that time die. “For the first time we have the potential, we have the hope, of a therapy that one day may slow or prevent Huntington’s disease. “This is of groundbreaking importance for patients and families.”

Doctors are not calling this a cure. They still need vital long-term data to show whether lowering levels of huntingtin will change the course of the disease.

The animal research suggests it would. Some motor function even recovered in those experiments.

- BBC.com 

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