Contact: Christopher Cosentino, Director of Marketing & Communications
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New York, NY, October 2, 2015 — The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) is pleased to announce that six research grants have been awarded under the Society’s largest research initiative, the HDSA Huntington’s Disease Human Biology Project. Totaling $750,000, these grants emphasize the importance of bringing basic and clinical researchers together to facilitate Huntington’s disease (HD) science beyond animal models and into the human condition with the participation of HD patients.

“Now in its third year, the HD Human Biology Project allows HDSA to foster innovative patient-focused research to help the HD community better understand the biology of HD as it occurs in people”, said George Yohrling, PhD, Senior Director, Mission and Scientific Affairs at HDSA. “There is nothing more exciting or more relevant to HD than scientific observations made in people with the disease”.

HDSA received applications from researchers from all around the world. Ultimately, grants were awarded to six research fellows, from three countries (USA, Canada, and Australia). The winning projects include the development of a sensitive test to detect huntingtin protein in spinal fluid, the use of human stem cells to understand HD phenomena, biomarker development, and a clinical study to investigate the potential of exercise and electrical brain stimulation to increase brain plasticity in HD patients.

The winners and titles of the 2015 HDSA HD Human Biology Project Grants are:

  • Amber Southwell, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia: Ultrasensitve detection of huntingtin protein in cerebrospinal fluid, Dr. Janis Brown Memorial Award Winner
  • Ali Khoshnan, Senior Research Scientist, California Institute of Technology: Investigating the toxicity of mutant huntingtin in human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from gut epithelial cell models
  • Marie Didiot, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Massachusetts Medical School: Study of CAG repeat expansion impact on huntingtin mRNA cellular localization for a rational design of next generation oligonucleotide-based therapeutics
  • Sophie Andrews, Research Fellow, Monash University (Australia): Exercise and brain stimulation as modifiers of neuroplasticity in Huntington’s disease
  • Lisa Salazar, Assistant Project Scientist, University of California at Irvine: Molecular and cellular assessment of huntingtin lowering in differentiated patient-derived HD iPSCs.
  • Changning Wang, Instructor, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School: Investigation of epigenetic mechanisms in Huntington’s disease patients quantified by non-invasive PET imaging

For a complete summary of these six research projects, please visit

“HDSA is devoted to enabling promising HD research and supporting scientific leaders in the quest to find a cure for Huntington’s disease as quickly as possible,” said Louise Vetter, Chief Executive Officer of HDSA. “The Human Biology Project is unique in its insistence that the science has immediate relevance in helping patients and families, because simply put – there’s no time to waste.”

This year, thanks to the generosity Mrs. Sandra Hurley (Arlington, TX), this year’s top scoring Human Biology Project proposal from Dr. Amber Southwell (University of British Columbia) was given the additional honor of being named winner of the Dr. Janis Brown Memorial Award. Sadly, Janis passed away in September 2014 after a long battle with HD. Janis was a strong advocate for HD research. Her cousin and caregiver, Sandra Hurley wanted to honor Janis’ legacy with this award.

Huntington’s disease is a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years and has no cure. HD is known as the quintessential family disease because every child of a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of carrying the faulty gene. Today, there are 30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at-risk of inheriting the disease. Many describe the symptoms of HD as having ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – simultaneously.

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America is the premier nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of everyone affected by Huntington’s disease. From community services and education to advocacy and research, HDSA is the world’s leader in providing help for today, hope for tomorrow for people with Huntington’s disease and their families.

To learn more about Huntington’s disease and the work of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, visit or call (800)345-HDSA.