Researchers have taken a step toward understanding -- and stopping -- Huntington's disease, a disorder that destroys nerve cells in the brain, gradually robbing the patient of his ability to walk, talk and eat. Currently, there is no cure or effective treatment for the hereditary disorder. In the new study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the California Institute of Technology led by biology professor Paul Patterson used antibodies to block the effects of the disease in cells. Huntington's is caused by a mutation in the protein huntingtin. "Potentially, this knowledge could be useful in designing a therapeutic drug, one that covers up that part of the mutant protein that kills healthy cells," Patterson said. "The next stage of the work will be to deliver this antibody into the brains of mice that carry the human mutant gene and that have developed motor symptoms that are related to the disease. We want to see if this antibody can rescue these mice, even after they show signs of the disease. These experiments are, however, just beginning."
REVISING CHOLESTEROL GUIDELINES
A study touts the benefits of new cholesterol guidelines that suggest greater numbers of people under 45 and over 65 should use cholesterol-lowering drugs. The report in the journal Circulation notes there have been many trials to determine the benefits of cholesterol lowering in the elderly, but no formal studies are ongoing for younger patients. "The ability to generalize the primary prevention trial results, particularly to younger patients, must be explored," the study authors said. "The health policy implications of the guidelines should be considered and addressed along with their adoption," said lead author Donald Fedder. "The new guidelines have increased the number of people eligible for drug treatment." According to the National Cholesterol Education Program III guidelines, people at higher risk for heart disease with LDL cholesterol levels (the "bad" cholesterol) of 130 mg/dL or greater are eligible for cholesterol-lowering treatment. These recommendations replace the previous guidelines set in 1993, which set treatable LDL levels of 160 mg/dL or higher.
PREDICTING STROKE WITH MRI
An imaging test can identify people with dangerous clogging in their neck arteries, researchers report. They said in the journal Circulation that Magnetic Resonance Imaging may some day help identify individuals who need immediate surgery to prevent stroke. The researchers cautioned that the study was small and the results need to be confirmed in a large prospective study. For that reason, they said, it is too soon to recommend the use of MRI to determine the medical course of action. "However, these early, promising results suggest that in the future it may be possible to use MRI to track the progress of atherosclerosis and to better select patients for surgical intervention," said Chun Yuan, professor of radiology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
FIGHTING AIDS THE 'SMART' WAY
Researchers at 21 U.S. centers and several in Australia have launched a long-term study that will eventually include 6,000 participants to compare the effectiveness of two common HIV treatment strategies. The volunteers taking part in SMART, or Strategies for Management of Anti-Retroviral Therapies, will be monitored for up to nine years. The study is being conducted by the Community Programs for Clinical Research on AIDS, a network of community-based researchers funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The two approaches include: suppressing the AIDS virus from the outset with continuous use of strong antiviral drugs or delaying drug therapy until the CD4+ T cells -- the primary target of HIV and a key indicator of immune system health -- fall below a critical level. "There is no doubt that people living with HIV/AIDS have benefitted greatly from the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy and other advances during the mid-1990s," said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. "However, it is also undeniable that these powerful drugs cause serious side effects. To strike a balance between adequately aggressive treatment and minimal adverse side effects, we need hard data. SMART promises to provide just that kind of information to physicians and their patients."
(EDITORS: For more information about HUNTINGTON'S, call 626-695-8733; about CHOLESTEROL, call 214-706-1279; about MRI, call 214-706-1396; about AIDS, call 301-402-1663.)