Research Fellows Directory
Professor Jenny Morton
University of Cambridge
HD is a genetic neurodegenerative disease in which patients develop progressive symptoms that include movement disorder, cognitive dysfunction, dementia and psychiatric disturbances. From the onset of symptoms, until death (typically 20 years later) the progression of disease is relentless. There is currently no treatment or cure for HD, so the prospects for HD patients and their families are bleak. My research is devoted to trying to understand how the gene mutation causes HD, with the aim of developing a treatment that will slow or prevent the course of the disease.
Transgenic mice carrying the mutation that causes HD are commonly used for pre-clinical HD research. They are used for identifying therapeutic targets, as well as developing and testing treatments. Unfortunately, because they have small brains and they only live for 2-3 years, there are many aspects of HD that cannot be modelled in mice. The ideal model for studying human neurological function would be a large non-human primate such as a macaque monkey. However, experiments using primates are expensive, and once the HD monkeys develop symptoms, testing them becomes particularly difficult. To get around these issues, we propose to use a transgenic HD sheep as a large animal model of HD. Sheep have complex brains the same size as macaques, and a sophisticated repertoire of different behaviours. But, in contrast to monkeys, they are cheap to maintain, and safe to use. They live in flocks, so affected animals do not have to be kept in isolation. However, whereas behaviorally monkeys are well described experimental animals, very little behavioral testing has been done on sheep. This is a rate-limiting factor if sheep are going to be able to supplement or replace the use of primates as large experimental animals.
In this project, I am studying multiple aspects of sheep behavior, to assess how useful they are as measures of the onset and progression of disease in sheep carrying the HD mutation. Pilot stud
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)