Huntington’s disease research news. In plain language. Written by scientists. For the global HD community.
Genome editing is a much-discussed frontier in medical science at the moment, with ‘DNA surgery’ having the potential to treat or cure genetic diseases like Huntington’s. Here we look at what this technology can currently do and discuss the challenges that still lie in the way. We’ll also discuss how a team of Swiss scientists have recently developed a way to switch off the genome-editing machinery after it’s done its job.
A new analysis of clinical data from the TRACK-HD and COHORT studies proposes a way to design of clinical trials designed to delay the onset of HD, rather than treating symptoms after they occur.
Ionis Pharmaceuticals launched the first ever trial of a huntingtin-lowering drug – sometimes called a 'gene silencing drug' – in late 2015. In a significant update, the company has announced two important milestones: the trial is now fully recruited, and an 'open-label extension' will be activated for the volunteers in the current trial. While nothing is guaranteed, this bodes well for the future of this important program.
Some techniques aimed at lowering mutant huntingtin can also affect the normal form of the protein. With clinical trials underway, it’s all the more important to understand the role of normal huntingtin in the adult brain. Researchers recently inactivated the huntingtin gene in healthy adult mice of different ages. They found that this could cause neurological and behavioral problems. Mice aren’t perfect for modelling human brains, and no huntingtin-lowering drug would remove the protein completely - but this research supports the need for continued caution as we test drugs that lower normal huntingtin.
A new exciting chapter in Huntington’s disease (HD) treatment is just beginning – WAVE Life Sciences have announced PRECISION-HD1 and 2, clinical trials of two new drugs that lower the mutant Huntington’s disease protein. We’re excited about this novel approach to huntingtin lowering therapies, but these are early days and we’ve got a long way to go to show they’re safe and effective in people.
CRISPR-Cas9 is an experimental gene editing technique used to make precise changes in DNA. For the first time, scientists have used this approach to attack the Huntington's Disease mutation in the brain cells of a mouse. Other researchers are refining CRISPR-Cas9 to be more efficient, specific, and safe. It’s still a long way from use in HD patients, but its application in mice is an exciting step forward.
What if a blood test could provide information about the status and course of HD? This is the premise of seeking HD biomarkers; they may someday help guide treatment decisions and predict how symptoms will change. A team of researchers spanning multiple countries recently analyzed blood, brain images, and clinical exams from the TRACK-HD study. They found that blood levels of a protein called neurofilament light chain corresponded with the severity of HD, making it a potential biomarker.
If media reports of a "wonder-drug" that could "stop all neurodegenerative brain diseases, including dementia” seem too good to be true, that's because they are. The truth behind the headlines is that researchers tested thousands of already-licensed drugs in worms, and a couple that went on to show beneficial effects in mouse models of two rare forms of dementia. While it gives researchers two new leads, this research doesn't prove anything about these drugs in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, and has virtually nothing to do with Huntington's disease at all.
The final day of the 2017 Huntington's Disease Therapeutics conference brought updates on research to better understand how HD affects brains, and breakthroughs in using brain cells to understand and treat HD.