At Therapeutics Conference, landmark study of young gene carriers highlights how Huntington’s disease researchers seek to solve critical puzzles

Armed with ever more impressive data and a deeper understanding of Huntington’s disease, scientists and drug hunters convened at the 15th Annual HD Therapeutics Conference this week, facing the complex puzzles that still hinder the quest for treatments for this deadly neurological disorder.

One of those puzzles: how to not only treat symptoms, but to prevent them, especially in young presymptomatic carriers of the HD gene, so that they don’t have to spend their lives fearing the currently inevitable onset of this devastating disease.

On February 26, Sarah Tabrizi, FRCP, Ph.D., of University College London, answered key questions about what kinds of health consequences young presymptomatic gene carriers suffer decades before they’re likely to develop the disease in midlife.

Previous studies have demonstrated that brain shrinkage can occur as early as 15 to 18 years before predicted age of onset. Ranging in age from 18-40, the 64 gene carriers in Dr. Tabrizi’s HD Young Adult Study went through state-of-the art brain scans and cognitive testing, and also provided samples of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis. These at-risk volunteers are, on average, 24 years from estimated onset.

This study, in line with “The Path to Prevention” (one of five major themes of the 2020 conference), is aimed at helping identify the optimal time to treat gene carriers to slow or prevent their neurological decline.

“Comprehensive cognitive testing was normal,” as compared to 67 non-HD-affected individuals, reported Dr. Tabrizi in her presentation to the conference. “There were no significant psychiatric differences, which I found very interesting, because I would have predicted they would’ve been big differences.”

Dr. Tabrizi said that “there’s always been a thought that carrying the HD gene hard-wired you for psychiatric burden,” but the Young Adult Study suggests that such symptoms become more prominent closer to onset.

“I think that was – and I don’t say this lightly – a landmark presentation,” Robert Pacifici, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer for CHDI Foundation, Inc., the conference sponsor, told me today, adding that Dr. Tabrizi’s team carried out the study with “a high degree of rigor and granularity.”

“The participants seem to be remarkably well,” Dr. Pacifici observed. The absence of many of the neurological and other problems typical of HD is an encouraging prospect for developing safe and well-tolerated treatments that could “not just reverse, but actually prevent” HD, he said.

Dr. Pacifici lauded the study volunteers for their “unbelievably selfless participation,” including submitting to the study’s “incredibly rigorous battery.”

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Source: At Risk for Huntington’s Disease



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