Michael R. Hayden
Canada Research Chair in Human Genetics and Molecular Medicine
Tier 1 - 2001-01-01
The University of British Columbia
Medical genetics; predictive testing for Huntington's disease; and finding new genes associated with High Density Lipoproteins (good cholesterol)
Developing new drug therapies and testing for Huntington's disease; ways to raise HDL and prevent heart disease
Hunting Down Genes
Medicine is on the verge of drastic change. As scientists sequence and map the human genome, their growing understanding of the relationship between genes and diseases will help doctors design individual therapies, altering the way they treat illnesses. Michael Hayden's work is at the cutting edge of this trend.
Hayden's research concentrates on two areas: tracing the molecular development of Huntington's disease, and identifying new genes associated with HDL-high density lipoprotein, better known as "good cholesterol." Huntington's disease is an inherited neurological disorder that progresses until its victims lose motor control, cognitive skills, and emotional stability. HDL is the kind of cholesterol patients need. Too little has been linked to coronary artery disease.
Discovering the ways the genes involved in these disorders lead to cell death will help doctors come up with new treatments. Beyond providing hope for patients who often feel a diagnosis of Huntington's disease is a hopeless death sentence, discoveries in these areas could also have benefits for a wide range of illnesses.
Already, Hayden's team has identified a marker scientists use in genetic testing for Huntington's disease. They were the first in the world to conduct prenatal testing for Huntington's during the first trimester of pregnancy. Perhaps more importantly, Hayden and his colleagues set up the only national program in the world that attempts to determine the effect of such testing on the patients who choose to undergo it. By determining the psychological consequences for people who are told they may have an increased or a decreased risk for Huntington's disease, doctors can better advise patients whether to undergo testing.
For this compassionate and ethical approach, the Huntington's Disease Society of America recognized Hayden with the Guthrie Humanitarian Award in 1999.