First treatment for Huntington's disease shows promise in rats, Van Andel Institute scientist says

Posted: May 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- A stem cell treatment investigated for Huntingtons disease holds out hope that scientists will someday be able to reverse damage caused by the degenerative brain disorder.

The technique, which uses reprogrammed skin cells from a Huntingtons patient, successfully restored motor functions in rats, said Dr. Patrik Brundin, a Van Andel Institute researcher who was involved in the study.

Its an interesting step, one weve been hoping for, he said. Its exciting.

The technique also will be tested in treatments for Parkinsons disease, said Brundin, who came to VAI from Sweden in October to lead the institutes Parkinsons research.

Scientists from Sweden, South Korea and the U.S. collaborated on the study, which was published online Monday in the journal Stem Cells.

Brundin said researchers took stem cells derived from the skin of a patient with Huntingtons disease and converted them to brain cells or nerve cells in culture dishes in the lab. The cells were transplanted into the brains of rats that had an experimental form of Huntingtons, and the rats motor functions improved.

The unique features of the (stem cell approach) means that the transplanted cells will be genetically identical to the patient, Jihwan Song, an associate professor at CHA University in Seoul and co-author of the study, said in a statement released by VAI. Therefore, no medications that dampen the immune system to prevent graft rejection will be needed.

Brundin estimated the research might lead to treatments for humans in five to 10 years, although he acknowledged a timeframe is difficult to predict. Researchers are eager to find a new treatment for Huntingtons because there is nothing really powerful to offer currently, he said.

Huntingtons is a genetic disorder affecting one in every 10,000 Americans that slowly diminishes a persons ability to walk, talk and reason. A child of a parent who has Huntingtons has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the gene that causes it.

Medications can relieve some symptoms in some cases, but there are no treatments available that can slow the disease, according to the Huntingtons Disease Society of America.

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First treatment for Huntington's disease shows promise in rats, Van Andel Institute scientist says

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