BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham spends every day working on a cure for Huntington's Disease-- and has secured millions in grants to make that happen.
Everyone has the Huntington gene, but about 40,000 adults in the U.S. inherited a mutated Huntington gene from one of their parents.
Those 40,000 have a combined 100,000 kids at risk of developing the fatal brain disease.
“Everyone who inherits the mutant gene given a long enough life span will develop the disease and everyone with the disease so far has died of it,” explains associate professor Jeff Carroll.
He’s heading up the continuous research at WWU.
The work Jeff does in the lab is more than just his job; it’s his life.
His mother Cindy Carroll died of Huntington’s Disease about 10 years ago, and he inherited it from her.”
Jeff’s mom developed the disease in her 40s; Jeff is 39.
“I’ve gotten really good at segregating it.
On a personal level all the really bad stuff still happens but I try not to let that bleed into my science brain,” Jeff explained.
After he tested positive for the mutation 18 years ago, he left the Army and went back to school to study neuroscience.
Now he has a PhD and has secured more than $2 million in research grants—the most recent of which is $800,000 alone.
In the lab, he and his techs grow cells—and implant them in adult mice.
“When you reduce the levels of the Huntington gene being expressed in the cell, the mutant HD cell gets better and mice that you make to genetically mimic Huntington’s disease patients get better,” Jeff said.
But Jeff wants to take the research further, examining what happens to mice born without any Huntington gene at all.
He knows he could end up like his mother—and if he does—he wants to make sure others don’t.
“I started doing this because it was personal to me but I kept doing it because it’s just a really cool job,” Jeff concludes.
For people with Huntington's disease who want to have children-- there is now a test doctors can perform on embryos to determine which are least likely to have the mutated gene.
Cox Media Group