All three of Frances Saldaña’s children suffer from Huntington’s disease, a genetic immune disease that causes the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, leading to difficulty with movement, cognitive impairment, mood problems, sight problems, and other symptoms. Most sufferers won’t show symptoms until they are between 30 and 40 years old, and the disease will eventually lead to their death. “It’s the worst aspects of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS all rolled into one,” said Robert Pacifici, PhD, the Chief Scientific Officer at the CHDI Foundation.
Frances’s youngest daughter is in hospice at age 31, and her son is in a care facility. He is no longer able to walk. Her other daughter, Margie, can still attend events with Frances to help spread awareness about the disease, but she is no longer allowed to drive. All of Frances’s children inherited the disease from their father, who carried the dominant gene. He did not know that he had the disease until after their children were born. He died over 18 years ago.
Despite the difficult situation her family is in, Frances refuses to lose hope. She looks to stem cell research as a possible solution. Researchers at UCI have had success using stem cells to create medium spiny neuron progenitor cells, which could give rise to new medium spiny neurons, the brain cells that are most affected by Huntington’s. To read the full story about Frances Saldaña’s family and the exciting stem cell research happening today, click here for the full article from CIRM.