Dr. Cleveland and Isis senior scientist Holly Kordasiewicz, Ph.D., were honored as the 2012 Researchers of the Year by the San Diego Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA-San Diego) last night before some 500 attendees at the chapter’s twelfth annual Celebration of Hope Gala.
With an eye on starting a clinical trial possibly as early as 2014, a scientific team in San Diego is painstakingly working to design the best drug possible to defeat Huntington’s disease.
For the past seven years, Don Cleveland, Ph.D., of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and Frank Bennett, Ph.D., the senior vice president for research at Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., have envisioned treating HD with a revolutionary gene-silencing technology that, if successful, would attack the disease at its genetic roots and perhaps even partially reverse symptoms.
Since late 2007, the UCSD and Isis teams have partnered with theCHDI Foundation, Inc., the multi-million-dollar non-profit biomedical organization dedicated to finding HD treatments. Together they aim to develop what Dr. Bennett has described as a “laser-guided missile” to prevent the damage to brain cells caused by the mutant huntingtin gene carried by HD patients.
Isis employs a cutting-edge technology known as antisense oligonucleotides, or ASOs. DNA, the building block of life, runs our cells by telling them which proteins to make. It does so by sending messages with another molecule called messenger RNA.
As encoded by DNA, RNA has a very specific template, somewhat akin to a unique electrical outlet into which a plug can fit. RNA is known as a sense molecule, and Isis manufactures specific ASOs, artificial strands of DNA, to act as antisense molecules, the plugs that control the RNA. (Click here and here to read previous reports on the project.)
The ASOs accomplish two goals. First, they destroy the huntingtin RNA and thus prevent the production of the huntingtin protein. Second, eliminating the RNA removes it as a potential cause of other problems in the cell.