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The Huntington’s Disease Society of America has recognized UC Davis as a center of excellence for its expertise in clinical care for Huntington’s disease patients. Led by UC Davis faculty members in the Department of Neurology, the Huntington’s disease (HD) clinic is one of the largest in the country and the only center of excellence in Northern California. In addition to clinical care, patients also have access to the emerging new treatments through clinical trials.
What is Huntington’s disease?
Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease that causes degeneration neurons in certain areas of the brain that leads to uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties, and emotional problems. A person who inherits the HD gene will sooner or later develop the disease.
Symptoms and progression of disease
Some early symptoms of HD include mood swings, depression, irritability or trouble driving, learning new things, remembering a fact, or making a decision.
As the disease progresses, concentration on intellectual tasks becomes increasingly difficult and the patient may have difficulty feeding himself or herself and swallowing. The rate of disease progression and the age of onset vary from person to person.
At UC Davis’s Huntington’s Disease clinic, patients are cared for by teams of neurologists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and social workers. Medications are used to treat symptoms, while exercise and other training can be used to help patients live relatively normal lives.
The Huntington’s disease clinic is part of a national consortium called the Huntington’s Disease Study Group, headquartered in Rochester, NY. It includes of 60 centers in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom. The consortium conducts multi-center clinical trials that include short-term studies aimed at finding and improving treatments that lessen symptoms, as well as long-term studies aimed at slowing the progression of the disease.
Recently, the center participated in a clinical trial of a drug to help stop involuntary movements. The drug proved to be safe and effective and was able to win FDA approval. It is also participating in long-term studies that look at people who have inherited a gene that causes Huntington’s disease but have yet to show any signs of it.
The center currently provides care and programming services to patients with deep brain stimulators, devices used to control some symptoms of HD. The center will soon begin a deep brain stimulation program in which surgical implantation will also be available.