Hope, cutting-edge science, and poignant moments at the World Congress on Huntington’s Disease The first such HD meeting held in a developing nation, last month’s World Congress on Huntington’s Disease (WCHD) not only highlighted the need for better understanding of the disease in Latin America. It also revealed the growing global importance of the the quest for both better care everywhere and the development of treatments. Featuring activities for both researchers and families, the sixth WCHD featured some 20 panels, a poster session, a satellite symposium, joint meetings of the International Huntington Association (IHA) and the Associação Brasil Huntington (ABH), entertaining evening wrap-ups by HDBuzz.net editors Dr. Jeff Carroll and Dr. Ed Wild, and a moving presentation by the France-based HD performance group Dingdingdong. Like most HD conferences, the WCHD stressed advances in the search for treatments. The four-hour-long closing session included an update on clinical trials, a talk on deep brain stimulation and HD, a presentation on cutting-edge RNA-interference-based (RNAi) therapies, and an overview of the efforts to reduce or block the deleterious effects of the faulty protein huntingtin in the brain. “There is a lot of hope,” said Dr. Doug Macdonald, the director of drug discovery and development for CHDI Management, Inc., which directs the multi-million-dollar effort to defeat HD by the CHDI Foundation, Inc., in his presentation. “There is a rich pipeline of these therapeutics advancing into the clinic. We have direct delivery of huntingtin-lowering agents, the viral delivery of RNAi agents, and viral delivery of zinc finger protein agents.” Dr. Macdonald provided a clinical-trial timeline for these potential drugs. The first is likely to be the huntingtin-lowering drug under development at Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Roche, scheduled to enter a Phase I trial by the end of 2014. Other projects may begin trials in the next few years, Dr. Macdonald added. For a detailed explanation of these approaches and more on timelines, watch Dr. Macdonald’s talk in its entirety in the video below. See also a discussion of other types of trials and general coverage of the WCHD at www.HDBuzz.net. You can view 32 more chronologically ordered conference-related videos by visiting my 2013 World Congress on Huntington’s Disease album on Vimeo.
From exciting science to social consequences The WCHD scientific presenters focused on a panoply of other HD themes, from exciting developments in basic science to current medical treatments of symptoms to the social consequences of HD. Dr. Elena Cattaneo of Italy presented the latest research on the origins of the huntingtin gene. “The normal gene is a gene that everyone has,” Dr. Cattaneo explained. “Everyone in the world has that gene. At some point, we started to think that, if we have that gene, it means that gene is important. So about ten years ago my group, but also other groups, started looking for the function of the normal gene. Of course, we know that in the disease the mutant gene causes the loss of the neurons. But in order to understand more about the mutant version, we wanted to understand what the normal version was doing.” Scientists discovered that the normal gene is important for “keeping the neurons healthy and alive and working properly,” she said. The huntingtin gene was “born” in an ameba species 800 million years ago, she continued. “This is the first pluricellular organ, and the huntingtin gene is there. Pluricellular means that cells talk to each other to form an organism…. I started thinking of huntingtin as a gene with a social function, because it brings cells together. So let’s assume that huntingtin is such a gene. Huntingtin is a good gene. It is not a bad gene.” You can watch Dr. Cattaneo’s fascinating presentation in the video below.
Source: At Risk for Huntington’s Disease