‘Predicting’ Huntington’s disease in the heartland

To develop treatments for a disease, researchers and physicians first need to understand how its symptoms evolve and how they affect people’s lives.
In early August, I traveled to the University of Iowa in Iowa City to donate blood, urine, and saliva samples, undergo a motor coordination exam and brain MRI scan, and perform a battery of cognitive and mood tests for the long-term research study Neurobiological Predictors of Huntington’s Disease, best known as PREDICT-HD, one of the largest public-private research projects in the history of the quest to defeat the disease.
My biological samples will become part of a bio-repository at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) located just outside Washington, D.C. Researchers from around the world can apply for access to these materials.
In studying gene-positive, asymptomatic people like me, the scores of researchers working at the University of Iowa, 26 other PREDICT centers in the U.S. and abroad, and many other institutions can try to analyze how the early symptoms of HD develop.
They are also seeking to identify HD “biomarkers” in the blood, cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), and brains of the study participants, who include formerly at-risk individuals who tested negative for HD. These individuals serve as a control, or comparison, group to ascertain which changes in the gene-positive people are specifically caused by HD.


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