Health Beat: Stem cells: A weapon for Huntington's?

Posted: January 6, 2015 at 5:46 am

SAN FRANCISCO -

Mike Hinshaw and Katie Jackson have been a couple since college, but they've known each other much longer.

"We've been together forever. I've actually known Mike since I was five years old," Jackson said.

A marriage and three kids later, they've been through good times and bad. The worst came nine years ago when Hinshaw found out he had Huntington's disease.

"My father had it. He died from it," Hinshaw explained.

Huntington's causes uncontrollable movements and mental decline. There's no cure.

"Unfortunately, it ends in death. It's a fatal disease," said Dr. Vicki Wheelock, neurologist, health sciences clinical professor of neurology and director of HDSA Center of Excellence at UC Davis.

Now, researchers are gearing up for a new trial in humans. Patients will have special bone marrow stem cells injected directly into their brains.

"We've engineered them to make a growth factor that's like a fertilizer for the neurons," said Dr. Jan Nolta, professor and director of the Institute for Regenerative Cures at UC Davis.

That growth factor, BDNF, restored healthy brain cells and reduced behavior deficits in mice. Researchers hope the stem cells will also be the answer to slowing the disease in humans.

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Health Beat: Stem cells: A weapon for Huntington's?

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