Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating degenerative brain disease with a 1 in 10,000 prevalence that inevitably leads to death. Because HD is genetically dominant, the disease has a 50% chance of being inherited by the children of patients. Symptoms of the disease include uncontrolled movements, difficulties in carrying out daily tasks or continuing employment, and severe psychiatric manifestations including depression. Current treatments only address some symptoms and do not change the course of the disease, therefore a completely unmet medical need exists. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a possible long-term treatment approach that could relieve the tremendous suffering experienced by patients and their families. Because HD is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. The ability to differentiate hESCs into neuronal populations offers a powerful and sustainable treatment opportunity. We have established the multidisciplinary team of investigators and consultants to integrate basic and translational research with the goal of generating a lead developmental candidate having disease modifying activity with sufficient promise to initiate Investigational New Drug (IND) enabling activities for HD clinical trials.
We have completed several rounds of transplantation of human neural stem cells into an HD mouse model and found that the cells survived in the brain for the four-week period of the trial, provided protective effects in delaying disease progression and increased production of protective molecules in the brains of these mice. In the last year the team differentiated hESCs into neural, neuronal and astrocyte precursors and performed transplantation studies to determine the best cell candidate to use and develop for future clinical work. We determined that the human neural stem cells produce the most robust effect. We have now selected a GMP grade hNSC line that will be carried forward for further testing in both rapidly progressing and slower progressing HD mice, as well as in mouse preclinical dosing studies. Taken as a whole, progress supports the feasibility of the CIRM-funded studies to transplant differentiated hESCs into HD mice for preclinical development with the ultimate goal on initiating IND-enabling activities for HD clinical trials.