Local Huntington’s disease group visits ground breaking research lab
Local people affected by Huntington's disease visit labs where a treatment is being sought

Local people affected by Huntington’s disease have visited laboratories at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD), to see the facilities and meet the research team working to find a treatment for the disease.

Around 20 people with Huntington’s, their family and friends, visited PUPSMD where they had a tour of the labs and found out about the latest research carried out there. Researchers showed the visitors around the facilities, which included cell culture, state of the art microscopes and other aspects of the labs.

Visitors Eric and Pauline Thompson, and their daughter Jamie who is expecting her first baby, were impressed by the facilities. Pauline said:

“It has been overwhelming and a lot to take in, but it is great that important research is being carried out here in Plymouth.”

Another visitor was Anne Holder, who came to find out more because she was concerned about her six year old grandson. She said:

“What is happening here gives us hope – something which we do not have a lot of for Huntington’s. It’s been great to find out more about how people here are working to find a cure and it is nice to know it is on our doorstep. I know it takes time for things to develop, but I hope that there will be something for my grandson.”

The visit was organised by Jamie Lake, who has Huntington’s disease and who with his brother Dave Robson runs events and activities to raise money for and awareness of the disease. He said:

“We have Huntington’s in our family, and when Dave and I came to visit the labs a few months ago they very kindly offered to host a visit for others in the area interested in the disease. I think it’s fair to say that everyone who came got something out of the visit, if only the hope that there are people locally working hard to find a cure. We will certainly be looking at ways to help the research team at PUPSMD in the future.”

Researchers from PUPSMD recently received a grant of nearly £520,000 from the Medical Research Council, to investigate the potential of manipulating activity at a cellular level in order to develop an effective therapy for Huntington’s disease.

The team will analyse a protein called Bim, which causes cell death in various tissues including those of the brain. At present it is unclear how Bim levels and activity increase in Huntington’s disease, and the study will aim to identify the mechanism which allows this increase. By understanding the mechanism and how it works, the way could be open for manipulating it to create an effective therapy for the disease. 

The study is led by Dr. Shouqing Luo, Associate Professor in clinical neurobiology. He said:

“It was a pleasure to show Jamie and his associates around the lab and to show them what we are doing to find a treatment for Huntington’s disease. It is good for us to meet people who are affected by what we are researching, and I hope they found the visit useful.”

Christian Burden, Director of Development at Plymouth University, added:

“We pride ourselves on working closely with local representatives of charities and organisations associated with our areas of research. We are looking forward to helping Jamie and his group in the future.”

Huntington’s disease is an hereditary disorder of the nervous system caused by a faulty gene on chromosome four. The faulty gene leads to nerve damage in the area of the brain resulting in gradual physical, mental and emotional changes. Those born to a parent with Huntington’s disease have a 50:50 chance of developing it, and there is currently no cure.