For over 25 years, clinical neuroscientist, and UK DRI Group Leader at UCL, Prof Sarah Tabrizi has been at the leading edge of the search for Huntington’s disease treatments. Her breakthroughs have, and continue to, push the field forward at pace and bring real hope to those affected by this heart-breaking neurodegenerative disorder. For her outstanding efforts and achievements, Prof Tabrizi is recognised with this year’s prestigious 2022 MRC Millennium Medal. We caught up with Sarah to reflect on her career to date, passion for scientific investigation and tireless drive to deliver a cure for her patients at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), part of UCLH.
“I really loved medicine and I became very excited about neuroscience. Edinburgh’s medical department was quite old school and in the second year you literally spent a year dissecting a human brain.”
Sarah first encountered Huntington’s disease during her MRC Clinical Training Fellowship PhD at UCL studying mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodegeneration, when supervisor Tony Schapira took her to a nursing home to collect skin biopsies from people living with disease.
“I met many patients and families at that time, and they all had advanced disease. It really struck me the way the disease affected young people, because these were people who were in their twenties, thirties and forties with end-stage disease, still able to interact and recognise me. It was very moving.”
Huntington’s disease is caused by the build-up of the mutant huntingtin protein in neurons. This leads to progressive cellular death, manifesting as a devastating worsening of coordination, involuntary body movements and mental ability. In most cases, it is inherited, and a child of an affected person will have a 50% risk of developing the condition.