Halting Huntington’s disease

In a world-first, Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have found a way to repair parts of the brain affected by Huntington’s disease.

The study, published in the recent issue of Brain and Behaviour, found that supervised exercise and cognitive training significantly increases grey matter volume in parts of the brain that degenerate from the disease.

ECU School of Medical Sciences Professor Mel Ziman said the loss of grey matter in the brain of those with Huntington’s disease contributes to a loss of cognitive and physical function.

“To be able to reverse these degenerative effects on the brain and show improvements in cognitive and physical function in people with Huntington’s disease is extremely promising.”

Training sessions were conducted at clinical gymnasiums across WA, including the gyms at ECU’s Joondalup and Mount Lawley Campuses.

Participants also completed specialised rehabilitation programs in their own homes, as devised by clinical exercise physiologists and occupational therapists.

Huntington’s disease, for which there is no cure, is a genetic disorder that progressively affects motor control, cognitive function and mental well-being. Unlike most neurodegenerative disorders which become apparent later in life, Huntington’s disease typically affects people during their thirties and forties.

Next steps

ECU will commence a new study with participants that carry the Huntington gene but are not yet symptomatic to determine whether such an intervention can successfully delay the onset of Huntington’s disease.

The researchers are seeking 50 people in Perth who are either at risk of Huntington’s disease or have the Huntington’s gene but have not developed symptoms.

The participants will be asked to participate in a 12-month program comprising resistance and aerobic exercise and cognitive training.

“Only about seven in 100,000 people carry the Huntington’s disease gene, so we are appealing to anyone who knows they have a family history of Huntington’s to come forward to help us develop a treatment for this terrible disease,” Professor Ziman said.

Personal story
Ann Jones’ daughter Tracey, who was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease at the age of 40, took part in the previous ECU study.

“We noticed a real improvement in Tracey during the program, so even though the study has finished, we have continued to go to the gym twice a week,” she said.

“She is walking better and her posture has improved as well”.

“I think one of the benefits has been that it has allowed us to feel like we have a bit of control and can do something to help.”

Ms Jones, who is the president of the International Huntington Association for Carers, urged people to come forward and volunteer for the expanded study.

“There is no cure for Huntington’s and very few treatments so it is vital that we pursue every avenue to slow this devastating disease.”

The recent publication, entitled, ‘The Effect of Multidisciplinary Rehabilitation on Brain Structure and Cognition in Huntington’s disease: an Exploratory Study’, was published in the latest issue of Brain and Behaviour.

An information session for people interested in volunteering will be held at the Niche in Nedlands at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital on 25 February from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

For more information about the session or to take part in the new study, please contact:
Professor Mel Ziman 0414929851, m.ziman@ecu.edu.au or
Mr Travis Cruickshank 0416843453,t.cruickshank@ecu.edu.au

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Source: ECU School of Medical

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