Medical research in the United States and around the world is progressing every day, but there are still many diseases out there that we don’t have an answer for. Huntington’s disease, for example, is still being worked on extensively in order to help those who suffer from it.
And on that front, there may be some good news. Researchers at Harvard Medical School, working in tandem with the Huntington Study Group, are currently testing a new drug that they hope will control chorea, one of the most prominent symptoms of the disease.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a genetic disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain. While it may go unnoticed when a person is young, it usually triggers the breakdown of a person’s mental and physical abilities between the ages of 30 and 50. Those who have the disease eventually pass away due to infection or other associated complications.
HD is especially dangerous because there is no known cure, and if a parent has it, then their child has a 50/50 chance of also having it. Currently, there are 30,000 people in the U.S. who have HD, and an additional 200,000 people are at-risk for inheriting it, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
Symptoms of the disease vary based on how advanced it is, but they include personality changes, mood swings, depression, forgetfulness, impaired judgement, involuntary movements (chorea), slurred speech, compromised motor function, difficulty swallowing, and significant weight loss.
So, in order to begin combatting the disease, researchers have begun testing therapies and drugs that ease the symptoms of HD. The Harvard study focused on working with a drug called deutetrabenazine, which is designed to reduce the effects of chorea.
The researchers utilized 90 adults who were diagnosed with HD and displayed a certain level of chorea. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to take deutetrabenazine and the other half took a placebo. Participants took the drug/placebo over the course of 12 weeks.
At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that deutetrabenazine significantly improved chorea control for those who took it; these participants showed greater overall physical function as well.
While scores for balance, depression, anxiety, and akathisia did not improve with use of the drug, the researchers are confident that they are heading in the right direction, though more research will be needed to gauge clinical importance and improve long-term efficacy and safety.