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CONTACT: JENNIFER BROWN
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Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9917; fax(319) 384-4638
e-mail: brownj@mail.medicine.uiowa.edu

Release: May 9, 2001

NOTE TO EDITORS: Please note that two of the co-directors of the UI HD Center of Excellence have very similar names: Henry Paulson and Jane Paulsen

UI Center of Excellence for Huntington's Disease hosts dinner

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Huntington's Disease Center of Excellence recently hosted its first annual "Celebration of Hope" fund-raising dinner to benefit its programs. Nearly 150 people attended the dinner including UI College of Medicine researchers, individuals and families with Huntington's disease (HD), community members and representatives of several pharmaceutical companies.

The UI is one of only 17 HD Centers of Excellence. The designation, awarded to the UI by the Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA) last May, was based on a nationwide competition. The society provides Centers of Excellence with funding and infrastructure to support state-of-the-art multidisciplinary care for patients with HD and their families. In the year since it was recognized as a Center of Excellence, the UI has provided care for nearly 200 individuals with HD and their families. This month is HD Awareness month as designated by the HDSA.

Huntington's disease is an inherited neurodegenerative disease caused by a mutation in a single gene, which codes for the protein huntingtin. The disease typically strikes people in their 30s and 40s who have the genetic defect, and progresses over a 15 to 20 year period, robbing patients of their ability to think, judge correctly, control their emotions and perform coordinated tasks. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, which affects 30,000 Americans and places another 200,000 at risk.

Three "Distinguished Leadership" Awards were presented at the dinner, honoring individuals who have made significant contributions in the areas of medicine, business, the arts, philanthropy and social services in center-of-excellence communities. The awardees were Robert P. Kelch, M.D., UI College of Medicine Dean; Willard L. "Sandy" Boyd, former UI president, and his wife, Susan Boyd; and W. Richard Summerwill, recently retired President and CEO of Iowa State Bank and Trust Company.

UI research aimed at finding treatments for HD is a multidisciplinary effort encompassing the work of scientists and physicians in the departments of neurology, psychiatry and psychology. The investigations cover all aspects of research from basic science to clinical trials. The UI center has three co-directors: Henry L. Paulson, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology; Robert L. Rodnitzky, M.D., professor of neurology; and Jane S. Paulsen, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, neurology and psychology.

Paulson's lab uses cell models and animal studies to investigate the behavior of the altered huntingtin protein in brain cells. The researchers hope to discover the underlying molecular causes of neurodegeneration in HD and other related diseases.

"We hope that by understanding the mechanism of neurodegeneration, we will be able to identify pathways that we can alter to prevent or slow the progression of the disease," Paulson said.

Work in Paulsen's lab is focused on identifying subtle neuropsychological characteristics of Huntington's disease in its earliest stages. Knowledge of these so-called biomarkers will allow researchers to more precisely monitor the progress of the disease from its early stages and allow them to determine whether new treatments are effective in slowing the disease progression.

Rodnitzky has been actively involved in numerous clinical trials of potential treatments for movement disorders such as HD and Parkinson's Disease.

"Being designated as a Center of Excellence by the HDSA puts us on the national stage for research against this disease," Paulson said. "When new therapies emerge, we will be one of the places that has the chance to evaluate those treatments. That will be a real benefit to our patient population."

For more information about the UI HD Clinic, HD research at the UI, or to schedule a visit, contact program coordinator, Elizabeth Penziner, at (319) 353-4307. Genetic testing for Huntington's disease is also provided at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. Genetic counseling, which includes neurological and psychological evaluations, is provided to individuals considering testing.

For more information about genetic testing for HD or to schedule an appointment, contact Cathy Evers at 1-800-260-2065.

For more information about the disease or the Huntington's Disease Society of America go to www.hdsa.org or call 800-345-HDSA.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.