YOUR HEALTH: Ways to lessen the effects of Huntington’s

ORLANDO, Florida –  About 30,000 Americans have Huntington's Disease and more than 200,000 people are at risk of inheriting it.

It is a fatal genetic condition that causes the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and leads to physical and mental deterioration.

Right now there's no cure for Huntington's but one researcher and her team have developed an experimental therapy that may enhance a patient's quality of life.

A patient like Danny Miller.

CURRENT TREATMENTS:    There is currently no cure for HD, and no firm way to stop or slow the brain changes it causes. Treatment therefore focuses on managing the symptoms.  Experts recommend several different treatments as a first-line strategy for the most troubling symptoms.   Beginning with an atypical antipsychotic drug, such as olanzapine, to treat chorea or involuntary movements.   For severe anger and threatening behavior, experts agree this same category of drug is the preferred approach.   However, for less severe nonthreatening irritability, experts recommend first trying serotonin reuptake inhibitor, a type of antidepressant.   Finally, to treat obsessive-compulsive thoughts and actions, experts also recommend SSRIs.

Miller was diagnosed with Huntington's disease in 2017.

"My father had Huntington's. My sister has it too."

"The initial response was, you know, kind of devastation," said his wife Katie.

With the likelihood of passing it down, the Millers decided not to have children.

"At this day and time, until there's a better answer for the quality of life, it seems like a bad idea," said Danny.

But a finding by researcher Amber Southwell is giving them hope.

Ionis Pharmaceuticals synthesized pieces of DNA, called ASOs, and Southwell injected that into the brains of mice to stop production of the mutant form of the Huntington protein that causes the disease.

They are able to suppress the mutant Huntington in mice.

"We're able to either prevent the onset of symptoms or actually restore normal functions, if we start treatment after symptoms have begun," explained Southwell.

These findings are leading a pathway to human clinical trials.

That's good news for Danny.

"Chances for longer and better quality of life that`s not a cure, but it's a damn good start for sure."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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