New technology to speed up research into Huntington's disease

A new tool developed at Cambridge University represents a breakthrough in the race to find treatments to help sufferers with Huntington's disease.

Researchers have developed an effective new method of testing cognitive decline in mice with the disease, using an automated touch screen. It is hoped the screen will also allow researchers to study more effectively the cognitive difficulties in other neurodegenerative disorders such as in Alzheimer's and CJD.

Huntington's disease is a genetic disease affecting around 8 in 100,000 people. It is characterised by a progressive decline in cognitive functioning (including memory loss, intellectual decline and disorientation) together with the appearance of abnormal movements and impaired motor skills (such as unsteady gait and poor coordination).

There is currently no cure and whilst some symptoms can be alleviated, no treatments have been developed that help with cognitive deficits, a distressing aspect of the disease.

Whilst useful mouse models mimicking this disorder have been developed, it has been difficult to test cognitive skills such as learning, because most traditional experiments demand a level of physical performance that the mice cannot deliver due to the effect of the disease on their motor abilities.

The automated screen developed by Cambridge scientists provides a simple means of assessing cognition, in a way that requires minimal movement on the part of the mouse. The mouse makes its response by touching its nose to the touch-sensitive screen. This means that the HD mice can complete the task, despite motor problems.

Other benefits are that it is less labour intensive, less time consuming and less stressful for mice, compared to traditional testing methods. Given the difficulties associated with these traditional methods, progress to date in trialling new treatments for cognitive deficits has been slow with contract research organisations und

Contact: Leila Coupe
University of Cambridge

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