Scientists at Keck Graduate Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University awarded fellowships to work on Huntington’s disease projects


New York, NY (April 2014) – The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) is pleased to announce that Courtney Hanlon (Keck Institute), Wenli Dai (Northwestern University) and Varsha Prabhakar (Smith College) are the three recipients of the 2014 Donald A. King Summer Research Fellowship.  The HDSA Scientific Advisory Board carefully reviewed and scored the proposals using several criteria such as: the quality of the candidate’s academic achievements, mentoring plan for candidate, scientific rigor of the experimental design and feasibility to achieve significant deliverables in a short summer timeframe.

“On behalf of HDSA and the HDSA Scientific Advisory Board, I would like to congratulate this year’s recipients,” said HDSA CEO Louise Vetter. “HDSA recognizes the continual and important need to continue to train the next generation of scientists with research expertise in neurodegenerative disorders, especially Huntington’s disease.”

Ms. Courtney Hanlon of the Keck Institute will be working at the Keck Institute of Applied Life Sciences under the guidance of Drs. Animesh Ray and M. Ian Phillips on a project entitled “Gene editing of human neuronal stem cells at the Huntington’s locus by targeted homologous recombination”.  Courtney’s project aims to see if HD can be successfully modeled in a human stem cell that   was altered to contain the mutant huntingtin gene.

Ms. Wenli Dai of Northwestern University will be working with Dr. Rick Morimoto on a project entitled “Direct chaperone transduction approach to Huntington’s disease treatment”.  Wenli’s project involves testing to see if the addition of a protein called Hsc70 will rescue cellular functioning in an HD neuronal model. Hsc70 acts as a chaperone to make sure other proteins behave properly.

Ms. Varsha Prabhakar from Smith College will be working under the guidance of Dr. Ghazaleh Sadri-Vakili from Massachusetts General Hospital on a project entitled “NeuroSteriodal MicroNeurotrophins (NSMN) as novel therapeutics for the treatment of Huntington’s disease”.  NSMNs are a novel class of compounds that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and bind neurotrophic receptors.  Certain neurotrophic receptors are found in the brain and, when activated, they help support the survival of existing neurons, and encourage the growth and differentiation of new neurons.  When NSMNs bind to brain neurotrophic receptors, it is hypothesized that they will have a neuroprotective effect on the brain by activating pro-survival signaling pathways   and thereby preventing cell death in HD brains.

In 2005, HDSA established the Donald A. King Summer Research Fellowship program in honor of Donald King who passed away in 2004.  Don was a tireless advocate for HD families and served as HDSA’s Chairman of the Board from 1999 to 2003.  The purpose of this fellowship program is two-fold:  first, to attract the brightest young scientists into the field of Huntington’s disease research and secondly, to facilitate meaningful HD research to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying HD pathology.

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About the Huntington’s Disease Society of America

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) is the largest 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of everyone affected by Huntington’s Disease (HD). Founded in 1968 by Marjorie Guthrie, wife of folk singer Woody Guthrie who lost his battle with HD, the Society works tirelessly to provide community services, education, advocacy and research to support everyone affected by HD.

About Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a rare, fatal, genetic neurodegenerative disease that progressively causes total physical and mental deterioration during an individual’s prime working years. Every individual with HD will ultimately lose the ability to live independently. Today, 30,000 Americans are known to have HD, and another 200,000 are considered ‘at risk’ of inheriting the disease from an affected parent. Each child of a person with HD has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the fatal gene and everyone who carries the gene will develop the disease.

To learn more about Huntington’s disease and the work of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, visi or call 1-800-345-HDSA.