A University of Wyoming researcher recently landed a patent for a method that could be used to treat patients suffering from Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Jonathan Fox is an associate professor and veterinary pathologist in the UW Department of Veterinary Sciences. Through his work studying mice genetically engineered to have Huntington’s disease, Fox developed a method for reducing the levels of the mutant huntingtin protein that causes the disease by increasing expression of certain protective proteins.

The disease involves degeneration of certain regions of the brain crucial for movement, memory and mental health, caused by the mutant form of a protein known as huntingtin. In the mutant form, the protein misfolds and accumulates in neurons.

“Increasing the expression levels of these protective proteins, or using chemical activators of their enzymatic activities, is a potential way to target the proximal cause of Huntington’s disease, which is mutant huntingtin protein,” says Fox.

Huntington’s disease affects about 30,000 people in the U.S.

“Since other protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases have many features in common with Huntington’s disease, the present method may be applicable to other protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases,” says Fox.

Davona Douglass, director of the UW Research Products Center, says Fox’s findings have created a new marketing opportunity for therapeutic development.

“We hope this patented innovation can regulate the huntingtin protein misfolds that accumulate in the brain and, ultimately, result in loss of brain functions,” says Douglass. “More research must be done, but we look forward to learning how this technology can be developed for use in a therapeutic setting, potentially providing relief for those individuals carrying the disease mutation.”