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The first blood test that can predict the onset and progression of Huntington’s disease has been identified by a UCL-led study. 

The researchers say their findings, published in Lancet Neurology, should help test new treatments for the genetic brain disorder, which is fatal and currently incurable.

This is the first time a potential blood biomarker has been identified to track Huntington’s disease so strongly. We have been trying to identify blood biomarkers to help track the progression of HD for well over a decade, and this is the best candidate that we have seen so far. Neurofilament has the potential to serve as a speedometer in Huntington’s disease, since a single blood test reflects how quickly the brain is changing. That could be very helpful right now as we are testing a new generation of so-called ‘gene silencing’ drugs that we hope will put the brakes on the condition. Measuring neurofilament levels could help us figure out whether those brakes are working.
 Dr Edward Wild (UCL Institute of Neurology), study senior author


The researchers caution that the test is not expected to be immediately helpful for individual patients.

This is the first time neurofilament has been measured in blood, so much more work is needed to understand the potential and limitations of this test. In the future, if drugs to slow HD become available, it may well be used to guide treatment decisions. For now, this test is most promising as a much-needed tool to help us design and run clinical trials of new drugs.
Lauren Byrne (UCL Institute of Neurology), the study’s first author.


Dr Robert Pacifici, chief scientific officer of CHDI Foundation, a US non-profit Huntington's disease research foundation, welcomed the development. "I can see neurofilament becoming a valuable tool to assess neuroprotection in clinical trials so that we can more quickly figure out whether new drugs are doing what we need them to. As a drug hunter, this is great news."

 

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