STAT+: On the long road to treating Huntington’s genetic stutter, scientists return to overlooked clues

In the spring of 1981, a geneticist from Indianapolis and a neurologist from Chicago got in a car and for three days they crisscrossed the yellowing cornfields of Iowa. Every now and then, they stopped at a house to draw blood from the inhabitants — more than 30 members of one extended family spread across the state. The scientists sent the blood 950 miles east to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to a tiny lab (recently converted from a storeroom) where a 28-year-old postdoc named James Gusella and his 23-year-old research technician, Rudolph Tanzi, got to work.

Using old hamster cages, chair cushions purchased from Kmart, and a Polaroid camera given to Tanzi for his 11th birthday, they began taking pictures of pieces of DNA carrying the genetic code of each member of that family. With enough pictures, and enough pieces, the scientists hoped to do something many of their…
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