Huntington’s disease is one of the severest diseases a person could suffer. It is a deadly, genetic, and irreversible disorder that gradually breaks down the cells in the brain. Its symptoms have been described as a combination of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, and every child whose parent has it has a 50% chance of developing it. About a quarter million Americans are at risk of developing Huntington’s disease.
The progression of degeneration
The effects of Huntington’s disease can be tracked in three stages:
- Early stage: some involuntary movements, slight changes in coordination, impaired thinking and reasoning
- Middle stage: involuntary movements that require medication, diminished speech, difficulty swallowing
- Late stage: inability to walk and speak, diminished reasoning, total reliance on other people
Deaths usually stem from complications, including heart failure.
While there is still no cure for Huntington’s disease, there are ways to help curb its spread through generations. These include genetic testing, family planning, and preempting its symptoms. At the very least, these precautions help patients and their families prepare for its progression. Studying individuals who bear the disease-carrying gene, and patients who are in its early stages, also help researchers explore options for medication.
The key role of PET scans
Brain imaging is one method of monitoring Huntington’s disease in gene-carriers. A positron emission tomography test – or a PET scan – has been found to be particularly useful.
A team at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York used PET scans to track changes in brain metabolism among 12 people who had the Huntington gene, but had not yet shown signs of illness.
Their studies showed a “characteristic network of abnormalities” in the participants’ brains. This network, in turn, became a useful tool for measuring the rate of disease progression among those individuals – a figure that enables researchers to evaluate drugs for combating the disease.
It’s a small window of light, but surely not an unwelcome one.
What Is Huntington’s Disease? HDSA.org
Researchers track Huntington’s disease progression using PET scans, ScienceDaily.com