Identifying the first indicators of Huntington’s disease could improve treatment options for the disorder, according to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The BCM team is following at-risk patients to track these symptoms, as well as conducting clinical trials of drugs that could eventually offer help to patients.

“It’s helpful to establish what the earliest signs of the disease are because that might be important as we design neuroprotective treatments,” said Joseph Jankovic, MD, director of the Parkinson’s Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic at BCM. “Eventually, we hope to have drugs that will slow down the disease, and these studies will identify some of the earliest signs to look for.”

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, which causes 30,000 Americans to gradually lose their mental abilities as well as physical control of their bodies.

In one study, Jankovic and his colleagues are following patients whom they know, based on a DNA test, will eventually develop the disease along with patients at risk who show minimal symptoms. The researchers hope to identify the first signs of the disease in order to help diagnose and treat future patients. In a similar study, the investigators are looking for early warning signs in people who have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease because one of their parents was diagnosed with it.