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Glenn Nichols, surrounded by his hospice team. The author is in yellow.

Genetic Linkage

Hannah’s 2016: From Curling Toes to Gene Therapy

January 12, 2016

Tags: gene therapy, GAN, giant axonal neuropathy, Ricki Lewis, Lori Sames, rare disease

Hannah Sames will have gene therapy in March, after an 8-year effort from her family. Go Hannah!
Eleven-year-old Hannah Sames can still curl her toes, just barely. But time is running out.

If Hannah can move her toes for a few more weeks, until she becomes the fourth child in a clinical trial for gene transfer to treat giant axonal neuropathy (GAN), the disease might halt – she may even regain function, as mice did.

It’s been an 8-year wait. So Facebook friends call 2016 “Hannah’s year.”

The first sign that something was amiss (more…)

Juvenile Huntington's Disease: The Cruel Mutation

June 3, 2013

Tags: Huntington's disease, rare disease, Woody Guthrie, CHDI, HDSA, genetics, triplet repeat mutation

Jane and Karli Mervar
Looking back, signs that Jane Mervar’s husband, Karl, had Huntington’s Disease (HD) started about when their youngest daughter, Karli, began to have trouble paying attention in school. Karl had become abusive, paranoid, and unemployable due to his drunken appearance. The little girl, born in September 1996, was hyperactive and had difficulty following directions. When by age 5 Karli’s left side occasionally stiffened and her movements slowed, Jane began the diagnostic journey that would end with Karli’s diagnosis of HD, which had affected the little girl’s paternal grandmother.

Soon Karli could no longer skip, hop, or jump. And new troubles emerged. (more…)

Rare Diseases: Unicorns, Not Zebras

February 27, 2013

Tags: rare disease, giant axonal neuropathy, mutation, gene therapy

The past and future of gene therapy: Corey Haas and Hannah Sames autograph books at the Schenectady Library.
“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

Every doctor-to-be hears this mantra. Rare Disease Day, February 28, celebrates the 7,000 or so diseases that are zebras, each affecting fewer than 200,000 people.

Giant axonal neuropathy (GAN) isn’t a zebra, but a unicorn. Eight-year-old Hannah Sames inherited one mutation from each of her parents in a gene that encodes a protein called gigaxonin. As a result, the axons of her motor neurons are slowly filling up with haphazardly-arrayed intermediate filaments. The cells bulge, blocking the messages to her muscles. She’s one of only 50 in the world known to have GAN. But if all goes according to schedule, Hannah and several other youngsters are going to have gene therapy to correct the disease. Read about it at Hannah’s Hope Fund.

Two years ago, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy in Washington, I had the honor of watching Hannah’s marvelous mom Lori as she watched a child helped by gene therapy – Corey Haas, whose story bookends a brief history of the technology in "The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It".

Here’s an excerpt, for Rare Disease Day. (more…)

Rare Diseases: 5 Recent Reasons to Cheer

July 31, 2012

Tags: rare disease, Leber congenital amaurosis, gene therapy, exome sequencing

3-year-old Gavin Stevens is at the center of one of four papers just published in Nature Genetics about the discovery of a childhood blindness gene.
(This blog first appeared at Scientific American blogs on July 29. I have written about the 4 childhood blindness papers for Medscape Today, to be published August 2 or 3.)

On Sunday morning, July 21, I faced a room of people from families with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), an inherited blindness caused by mutations in any of at least 18 (more…)

Non-PC Genetics Lingo

January 10, 2012

Tags: human genetics, Ricki Lewis, orphan disease, Orphan Drug Act, National Organization for Rare Diseases, European Organization for Rare Diseases, rare disease, race, people of color, mixed ancestry, NORD, Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, Sheila van Holst Pellekaan, HGDP, Human Genome Diversity Project, aborigine, Joseph Graves

We are all people of color, except the Invisible Man and Woman.
I struggle to stay politically correct when updating my human genetics textbook. “Hemophiliac” became “person with hemophilia” and “victim” vanished several editions ago. In the current incarnation, “mentally retarded” became “intellectually disabled” after colleagues warned that (more…)

Gavin's Story: Whole Exome Sequencing Finds Mystery Mutation

November 19, 2011

Tags: whole exome sequencing, human genome, Gavin Stevens, Ming Qi, Leber congenital amaurosis, Foundation for Retinal Research, Knome, Complete Genomics, John Chiang, CEP 290, LRAT, CUBY20, Beijing Genomics Institute, DNA, rare disease

In a hotel ballroom on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on a midsummer Saturday in 2010, an unusual roll call was under way at the Family Conference for the
Foundation for Retinal Research
. Betsy Brint, co-head of organization, was calling out what sounded like code words – CEP290, (more…)

instruction
Project to engage students in helping families with rare genetic diseases
Book Club Reader's Guide
Many challenging questions to stimulate thought and discussion.
Instructor's Guide
38 discussion questions to get students thinking and talking about gene therapy, including the science, ethical issues, and the drug approval process.
Narrative science
The Forever Fix is the uplifting true story of 8-year-old Corey Haas, who was cured of hereditary blindness just 4 days after gene therapy.
College Textbooks
A spectacularly-illustrated, clearly written human anatomy and physiology textbook, used in pre-health profession programs throughout the U.S.
A highly engaging, clearly written, beautifully illustrated introduction to the science of human genetics for the non-scientist. Now in its 11th edition, 12th to be published in September 2018.
Nonfiction
An ideal starting point for anyone who wants to know more about genes, DNA, genomes, and the genetic ties that bind us all.

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