Huntington’s Disease Fact Sheet

CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand Huntington’s disease and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.


In the U.S. about 30,000 people have been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease (HD) and another 150,000 have a 50 percent risk of developing the disease because they have one parent who has or had HD. There are no effective therapies and the disease is uniformly fatal, usually in 10 to 20 years.

Huntington’s Disease results from a mutation to one gene, but that mutation can vary between patients and that may be linked to differences in how the disease progresses in various patients. But in all cases the mutated gene produces a protein that is toxic to nerve cells and eventually kills them. California’s stem cell agency has funded several projects that probe into both the nature of the mutation and ways to prevent or repair the damage from the mutant protein (a full list is below).

One obstacle to finding and testing potential therapies for HD is the lack of a good laboratory model that captures the complexity of the disease in people. So researchers are using stem cells to create a “disease in a dish” model, that allows them to create cells that reflect different forms of Huntington’s disease and then use them to screen different drugs to see if they are effective against HD. These teams are taking advantage of adult cell reprogramming to create so called induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS) from patients with HD to see how the cells differ. One team, over time, also hopes to genetically modify these iPS cells so that they produce the correct Huntington protein and could be used as a personalized therapy, custom-designed for each person with HD, to reduce the chance their own immune system will destroy the new cells.

Two other CIRM-funded teams are seeking to identify potential therapies that could be delivered to the damaged nerves with stem cells. One proposes to use embryonic stem cells, mature them into early forms of those nerve cells and genetically modify them to deliver a compound that could protect patient’s other nerves from the toxic protein. The other plans to use a type of stem cell found in bone marrow, mesenchymal stem cells, to deliver a genetic fragment called iRNA to the nerves and shut down the faulty gene.

Clinical Stage Programs

University of California, Davis

This research team plans to use bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells to deliver a growth factor to patients’ damaged and endangered nerves. The factor they have chosen, called BDNF, has been shown to be effective in laboratory studies in reducing nerve cell death and improving the function of nerves. They completed an observational phase trial to monitor disease progression in a group of patients and have decided to conduct additional laboratory work with their cell-plus-gene candidate therapy.

CIRM Grants Targeting Huntington’s Disease

Researcher NameInstitutionGrant TitleGrant TypeAward Amount
Dr. Michael P. Rapé Dr.University of California, BerkeleyControl of OCT4 abundance and function in human stem cellsFoundation – Discovery Stage Research Projects$1,234,023
Gene Wei-Ming YeoUniversity of California, San DiegoRNA-directed therapy for Huntington’s diseaseQuest – Discovery Stage Research Projects$1,253,110
Ali H. BrivanlouRumi Scientific CADiscovery of therapeutics for Huntington’s DiseaseQuest – Discovery Stage Research Projects$1,399,800
Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvinehNSC-mediated delivery of ApiCCT1 as a candidate therapeutic for Huntington’s diseaseQuest – Discovery Stage Research Projects$1,650,263
Dr. LESLIE M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineHD-CARE INAUGURAL SYMPOSIUMConference II$1,500
Dr. Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineAn hESC-derived hNSC Therapeutic for Huntington’s DiseaseLate Stage Preclinical Projects$5,635,393
Dr. Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineA hNSC Development Candidate for Huntington’s DiseasePreclinical Development Awards$4,951,623
Dr. Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineHuntington’s Disease TeamDisease Team Planning$41,953
Dr. John H GriffinNumerate, Inc.Use of human iPSC-derived neurons from Huntington’s Disease patients to develop novel, disease-modifying small molecule structural corrector drug candidates targeting the unique, neurotoxic conformation of mutant huntingtinEarly Translational IV$520,015
Dr. Steven M. FinkbeinerGladstone Institutes, J. DavidCommon molecular mechanisms in neurodegenerative diseases using patient based iPSC neuronsBasic Biology IV$1,395,184
Professor Clive N SvendsenCedars-Sinai Medical CenterThe HD iPSC Consortium: Repeat Length Dependent Phenotypes for Assay DevelopmentiPSC Consortia Award$300,000
Dr. Vicki WheelockUniversity of California, DavisMSC engineered to produce BDNF for the treatment of Huntington’s diseaseDisease Team Therapy Development – Research$8,924,235
Dr. Vicki WheelockUniversity of California, DavisMSC engineered to produce BDNF for the treatment of Huntington’s diseaseDisease Team Therapy Planning I$97,564
Dr. Joel M GottesfeldScripps Research InstituteTriplet Repeat Instability in Human iPSCsBasic Biology III$1,705,494
Dr. Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineA hESc-based Development Candidate for Huntington’s DiseaseEarly Translational II$3,955,038
Dr. Jan Aileen Nolta PhDUniversity of California, DavisSustained siRNA production from human MSC to treat Huntingtons Disease and other neurodegenerative disordersEarly Translational I$2,615,674
Dr. Leslie M ThompsonUniversity of California, IrvineNew Cell Lines for Huntington’s DiseaseNew Cell Lines$1,302,526

CIRM Huntington’s Disease Videos

Frances Saldaña: Huntington’s Disease Patient Advocate

Ningzhe Zhang, Buck Institute – CIRM Stem Cell #SciencePitch

Leslie Thompson, UC Irvine – CIRM Stem Cell #SciencePitch

Vicki Wheelock, UC Davis – CIRM Stem Cell #SciencePitch

Huntington’s Advocates Celebrate New Stem Cell Research Funding

Judy Roberson: Patient advocates drive stem cell scientists

Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s – Using Stem Cells to Understand and Treat Disease

Disease in a Dish – Using Stem Cells to Model Huntington’s Disease and SMA

Huntington’s Disease: Progress and Promise in Stem Cell Research

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2010): Welcoming Remarks

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2010): Vicki Wheelock

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2010): Jan Nolta

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2010): Sherry

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2010): Closing Remarks

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2007): Welcoming Remarks

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2007): Seminar by Robert Pacifici, Ph.D.

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2007): Seminar by Hans Keirstead, Ph.D.

Spotlight on Huntington’s Disease (2007): Seminar by Frances Saldana

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