Public Release: 

University of South Florida designated Center of Excellence by Huntington's Disease Society

University of South Florida (USF Health)

Tampa, FL (Nov. 18, 2004) -- The University of South Florida has been designated a regional Center of Excellence by the Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA). USF was one of four universities across the nation competitively awarded the prestigious designation this year, and is the only HDSA Center of Excellence in Florida.

The designation includes $50,000 a year in funding to help support a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals with expertise in Huntington's Disease. The team will provide comprehensive medical and social services as well as education, outreach and research opportunities to the HD community.

"This is great news," said neuroscientist Juan Sanchez-Ramos, PhD, MD, who directs the HDSA Center of Excellence at USF. "The Center of Excellence will focus on offering services, comfort and hope to patients and their families while moving towards real solutions to the illness."

"The designation gives us national visibility and helps strengthen our neuroscience program. It sets us up to offer more clinical trials of potential new therapies that may slow progression of the disease."

USF joins a select group of 21 HDSA Centers of Excellence across the country, including those at Johns Hopkins, Harvard/MGH, the University of Virginia, Emory and Baylor.

"The Huntington's Disease Society of America is committed to identifying and designating 25 HDSA Centers of Excellence by 2006," said Barbara Boyle, HDSA National Executive Director/CEO. "The addition of USF means that our HD families living throughout Florida will no longer have to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, or Birmingham, Alabama, to receive the exceptional quality of care offered by an HDSA Center of Excellence. We look forward to working with the staff at USF to make this an outstanding Center of Excellence, which we will formally dedicate in January 2005."

Huntington's Disease is an inherited degenerative disease that progressively robs patients of the ability to think, judge appropriately, control their emotions and perform coordinated tasks. Huntington's Disease typically begins in mid-life, between the ages of 30 and 50. Each child of an affected parent has a 50 percent risk for inheriting the disease. There is no effective treatment or cure for this fatal illness that affects 30,000 Americans and places another 200,000 at risk.

Since 1999, USF has treated more than 250 patients with Huntington's Disease from across Florida. The Center of Excellence designation is expected to increase referrals from throughout the Southeast.

The USF College of Medicine offers a weekly Huntington's Disease Clinic and a full spectrum of services, including genetic testing and counseling, psychiatry, physical and occupational therapy, caregiver and patient support, education programs and community outreach. USF researchers conduct a variety of basic science and clinical research on neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington's Disease.

Dr. Sanchez-Ramos, who holds the Helen Ellis Endowed Chair in Neurology, is planning to study whether stem-like adult bone marrow cells administered intravenously may delay the onset of Huntington's disease in mice genetically engineered to have symptoms of the disease. Such cells have already shown promise in animal models for brain injuries caused by stroke and trauma.

USF is also one of the sites for an ongoing multicenter, placebo-controlled clinical trial investigating whether the drug tetrabenazine is beneficial and at what dosage might it improve chorea -- the excessive, involuntary movements affecting most people with Huntington's Disease.

Research on Huntington's Disease may advance the understanding of other more prevalent neurodegenerative diseases, Dr. Sanchez-Ramos said. "Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- all involve the progressive loss of specific subsets of brain cells. At the molecular level, if we discover a therapy that works for Huntington's Disease it may also be applicable to these other central nervous system disorders."

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Responding to demand from Tampa's community leaders, the University of South Florida College of Medicine was established by the Florida Legislature in 1965. Part of the USF Health Sciences Center, doctors and researchers were awarded $116.6 million in grants and contracts last year. Providing advanced medical care, USF Physicians Group at the College of Medicine is the largest doctor group in West Central Florida offering expert medical care throughout Tampa Bay's finest hospitals such as Tampa General Hospital, James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and All Children's Hospital.

The Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA) is the only voluntary non-profit health agency dedicated to both the care and cure of Huntington's Disease. HDSA consists of more than 35 volunteer based chapters and affiliates, more than 150 support groups, twelve regions, 21 HDSA Centers of Excellence, 18 senior research investigators who comprise HDSA's prestigious research program, the HDSA Coalition for the Cure and more than 25 Grants and Fellowship recipients. In 2003, HDSA funded more than $3.5 million in HD research and more than $4 million in care including the HDSA Center of Excellence program.

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