What would you do if your muscles could not do what you wanted them to do? Life would become much more difficult, to say the least. Things that we do effortlessly, like eating and walking, would suddenly be momentous tasks. Such is life for people that suffer from Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s disease is a fatal hereditary disease that causes those affected by it to lose control of their muscles. As the disease progresses, swallowing becomes more and more difficult. Many Huntington’s patients die from choking or from malnutrition associated with being unable to swallow food. Often, severe depression accompanies the devastating physical symptoms of Huntington’s disease.
Children of parents that suffer from Huntington’s disease have a one in two chance of developing the disease themselves. Doctor Nancy Wexler lost her mother to Huntington’s disease and has devoted her life to the pursuit of a cure. Dr. Wexler’s pursuit of a cure for Huntington’s disease led her to Venezuela thirty years ago. There is a village in Venezuela that has the highest concentration of people with Huntington’s disease of any place on earth. In the general world population, one in every ten thousand people develops Huntington’s disease. In the village of Barranquitas, Venezuela, one in every ten people has the disease. The concentration of Huntington’s sufferers in the remote village is a result of generations of intermarriage between a small group of families.
Dr. Wexler’s research in Venezuela has helped the scientific community to further understand Huntington’s disease. In 1993, the genetic abnormality that causes the disease was identified. Unfortunately, political tensions between the United States and Venezuela prevented Dr. Wexler from visiting Barranquitas between 2002 and 2010. She was able to travel there again earlier this year, and is hopeful that a cure for Huntington’s disease will become a reality in the near future.