Scientist speaks on Huntington pursuit

12 May 2008

Inquisitive: Dr Michael Hayden's work has brought hope to those who suffer from Huntington's disease.

Speaking at the UCT Alumni Leadership Forum on 5 May, acclaimed scientist Dr Michael Hayden chronicled his career-long quest to understand and find a cure for Huntington's disease, a rare genetic neurological disorder.

Hayden, described by erstwhile lecturer and former vice-chancellor Dr Stuart Saunders as "the quintessential physician", related how his interest in both Huntington's and genetics - then still in its embryonic stage at UCT - was first sparked at the UCT Medical School, from where he graduated with an MBChB in 1975 and a PhD in 1979.

Hayden left South Africa for Harvard and eventually settled at Canada's University of British Columbia. Here he and colleagues have done groundbreaking work on Huntington's and other conditions. Most recently, their work on the mutant protein that causes Huntington's has been hailed worldwide as the next step towards a cure.

"It is this work that brings hope to sufferers around the world, said the evening's second speaker, NBC war correspondent Charles Sabine. Sabine's father died of Huntington's, and both he and his brother suffer from the disease.

The Alumni Leadership Forum was established to bring leading UCT alumni back to the university. While it is hosted in Cape Town for now, plans are under way to move the event to other provinces as well, explained DVC Prof Thandabantu Nhlapo.

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