‘I feel so much hope’—Is a new drug keeping this woman’s deadly Huntington disease at bay?

Science | AAAS | 8/21/2018 | Staff
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‘I feel so much hope’—Is a new drug keeping this woman’s deadly Huntington disease at bay?

VANCOUVER, CANADA—The dark shadow of Huntington disease fell squarely over Michelle Dardengo’s life on the day in 1986 that her 52-year-old father was found floating in the river in Tahsis, the remote Vancouver Island mill town where she grew up. Richard Varney had left his wedding ring, watch, and wallet on the bathroom counter; ridden his bike to a bridge that spans the rocky river; and jumped. The 4.5-meter drop broke his pelvis. The town doctor happened to be fishing below and pulled Varney out as he floated downstream, saving his life.

Tailspin - Man - Encyclopedia - Britannica - Pleasure

But his tailspin continued. The once funny man who read the Encyclopedia Britannica for pleasure; the good dancer who loved ABBA, the Three Tenors, and AC/DC; the affable volunteer firefighter—that man was disappearing. He was being replaced by an erratic, raging misanthrope wedded to 40-ounce bottles of Bacardi whose legs would not stay still when he reclined in his La-Z-Boy.

In 1988, Varney was diagnosed with Huntington disease. That explained his transformation but offered little comfort. Huntington is a brutal brain malady caused by a mutant protein that inexorably robs victims of control of their movements and their minds. Patients are plagued by jerky, purposeless movements called chorea. They may become depressed, irritable, and impulsive. They inevitably suffer from progressive dementia. The slow decline typically begins in midlife and lasts 15 to 20 years, as the toxic protein damages and finally kills neurons. For both families and the afflicted, the descent is agonizing, not least because each child of an affected person has a 50% chance of inheriting the fatal disease.

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In the United States, about 30,000 people have symptomatic Huntington disease...
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