Huntington's Disease Protects from Cancer?

Swedish researchers have discovered that patients with the neurodegenerative disorder had half the normal expected risk of developing tumors.

Apr 13, 2012
Bob Grant

Neurons transfected with a disease-associated version of huntingtin, the protein that causes Huntington's disease WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, STEVEN FINKBEINER

Scientists reviewing medical records from Swedish hospitals have found that a surprisingly low number of people with Huntington's disease developed cancer over the course of nearly 40 years. Only 91 out of more than 1,500 Huntington's patients (~6 percent) also came down with cancer from 1969 to 2008 in the Scandinavian country, researchers from Lund University and the Stanford University School of Medicine reported in The Lancet Oncology this week. This is 53 percent lower than levels of cancer seen in the general population.

Huntington's disease is caused by a genetic mutation that disrupts the production of proteins called glutamines, and earlier studies had shown similar cancer protective effects in other so-called polyglutamine diseases.

"Clarification of the mechanism underlying the link between polyglutamine diseases and cancer in the future could lead to the development of new treatment options for cancer," Jianguang Ji, lead author from the Center for Primary Health Care Research at Lund University, told the BBC.