University of Sussex Researchers Receive $3.37 Million to Develop Huntington’s Treatments

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by Alice Melão |

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Huntington's research grant

Researchers at the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre in Brighton, England, have received a £3 million grant from Britain’s non-profit Wellcome Trust to develop Huntington’s disease treatments.

The team will team up with other researchers to target a protein that plays a role in cognitive impairment, one of the hallmarks of the neurological disease. The grant is equivalent to $3.37 million.

Huntington’s is characterized by deterioration in a person’s mental and physical abilities. The first signs appear between the ages of 30 to 50. In many cases, cognitive-function decline begins 10 to 15 years before the development of movement disorders.

The disease can be devastating, with many patients unable to work or even drive a car.

“The earlier symptoms of Huntington’s disease, which cause problems with multitasking, organizing and planning, are life-changing for sufferers and often lead to them being unable to carry out everyday tasks such as working and driving,” Professor John Atack of the University of Sussex said in a news release written by Lynsey Ford.

“By developing a drug which treats these debilitating symptoms, we can significantly improve the life quality not only of the patients themselves, but also of their families and careers,” Atack added.

The Sussex researchers, who are with the university’s School of Life Sciences, will collaborate on the research with scientists from the University of Dundee in Scotland and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

A key focus of their research will be developing compounds that can target a protein called the alpha5 GABAA receptor, which plays a role in cognitive impairment.

The experimental drug α5IA, which targets the receptor, reversed some of the cognitive deterioration in rodents with Huntington’s, the Dundee researchers have shown.

“Cognitive impairment in Huntington’s disease is in fact the most disabling symptom of the illness and brings with it devastating consequences for both the individual affected and their family,” said Cath Stanley, chief executive of the Huntington’s Disease Association.

“Currently there is very little research carried out that involves the development of a drug to improve this part of the condition, so this research has the potential to be literally life-changing for individuals,” she added.

The Wellcome Trust, founded by a medical entrepreneur, Sir Henry Wellcome, supports scientists and researchers tackling big challenges.