Breakthrough offers hope to Huntington's patients

Breakthrough offers hope to Huntington's patients

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe they have made a major breakthrough that could have massive implications for the treatment of patients with Huntington's disease.

The gene that causes the disease was first identified around two decades ago and scientists have long been aware of the repetition of DNA in the centre of the mutant form of the gene, but it is yet to be proven how this affects Huntington's symptoms.

However, chemical engineers at MIT have discovered a protein used by the mutant gene to alter the chemical modifications that occur in DNA. Known as methylation, these modifications are responsible for turning genes off and on.

It is believed the new protein, huntingtin, attacks only the genes related to brain function.

Ernest Frankel, a professor at MIT, believes the disruption to these genes may well result in the neurodegenerative symptoms in Huntington's patients.

He said: "If we can figure out, in more mechanistic detail, what’s causing these changes in methylation, we might be able to block this process and restore normal levels of transcription early on in the patients."

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