USF Huntington’s Disease Center of Excellence Given Award

The USF Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) Center of Excellence was honored on Feb. 11 in Orlando as “awesome warriors in the fight against Huntington’s Disease” by the Central Florida Affiliate of the HDSA. Plaques commemorating the honor were given to each of the members of the HDSA CoE at USF, including Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, director of the Center; Dr. Cynthia Cimino, neuropsychologist; Kelly Elliott, Nurse Coordinator; Nancy Braswell, social worker; and Dr. Tom Mueller, Medical Geneticist.

From left, Kelly Elliott, J. Sanchez-Ramos, Cynthia Cimino, Nancy Braswell (not pictured is Dr. Tom Mueller).

USF was designated a regional Center of Excellence by the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) in 2004. The USF program was one of four universities across the nation competitively awarded the prestigious designation that year and is currently the only HDSA Center of Excellence in Florida. The designation included $50,000 a year in funding to help support a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals with expertise in Huntington’s Disease. The team provides comprehensive medical and social services as well as education, outreach and research opportunities to the HD community. The designation gives USF national visibility and helps strengthen its neuroscience program, setting it up to offer more clinical trials of potential new therapies that may slow progression of the disease.

With this designation, USF joined a select group of 17 HDSA Centers of Excellence across the country, including those at Johns Hopkins, Harvard/MGH, the University of Virginia, Emory and Baylor.

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.

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine offers a monthly 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.

Other key faculty who work with the Center include neuropsychologist Francisco Fernandez, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences; neurosurgeon Thomas Freeman, MD, medical director of the USF Center for Aging and Brain Repair; neurologist Robert Hauser, MD, director of the USF Movement Disorders Center; Paul Sanberg, PhD, DSc, director of the USF Center for Aging and Brain Repair; neurologist Theresa Zesiewicz, MD; associate director of the USF Movement Disorders Center; and William Haley, PhD, director of the School of Aging Studies.

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