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Study finds drug that may help Huntington's sufferers

20th February 2006

A new study has revealed a drug that may help cut down involuntary movements in sufferers of Huntington's disease.

Tetrabenazine may reduce involuntary movement by 25 per cent and those taking the drug in trials were six times as likely to be seen as improved by their doctors, according to a report published in the journal Neurology.

The American study was led by Dr Kathleen Shannon at the Huntington's disease centre at Rush University and used 84 patients. Tetrabenazine is available in Europe and Canada and is already used in the UK to treat movement due to Huntington's disease (chorea) but is yet to be licensed in the US.

Huntington's disease causes involuntary spasms in the face and body, which the drug aims to treat, but the disease does not affect memory to the same degree as Alzheimer's syndrome.

It is an inherited disease with no known cure and tetrabenazine was only found to reduce the chorea symptoms but not reverse them. Current promising studies of treatment include the use of pig cells in primates in New Zealand but this has yet to be tested on humans.

While Dr Shannon says that, while tetrabenazine cannot treat all the symptoms of the disease, it can improve mood and control of movements.

Side effects of the drug were seen in a quarter of subjects, including sleepiness and in some cases depression, which would need to be supervised.

Overall, Dr Shannon said that patients responded well to the drug, which offered better side effects than current drugs such as haloperidol and is now waiting approval in the US.