George Sumner Huntington Biography (1850-1916)
Huntington was no academic or medical researcher, just a simple family doctorwho wrote a landmark description of the fatal hereditary disease now known as Huntington's disease.
Neither was he the first to recognize the malady that now bears his name. Infact, his father, George Lee Huntington, and grandfather, Abel Huntington, were both family physicians who were aware of the disease. The original manuscript of Huntington's classic paper, presented in 1872 to a local medical society in Middleport, Ohio, and published later that year in the Philadelphia-based Medical and Surgical Reporter, contains penciled annotations from his father, offering advice incorporated into the final draft. In Huntington'sbirthplace--East Hampton, New York--the disease had been prevalent for several generations in families that had emigrated from Suffolk, England. It had also previously been reported by other doctors in Westchester County, New York, and Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.
But Huntington's paper is considered a classic of the literature of neurology. "In the history of medicine, there are few instances in which a disease hasbeen more accurately, more graphically or more briefly described," wrote theesteemed medical educator William Osler, referring to the three-paragraph description of the disease contained in Huntington's landmark paper. It was oneof just two papers written by Huntington during his career. The second was an honorary essay requested 30 years later by the New York Neurological Society.
"The hereditary chorea, as I shall call it, is confined to certain and unfortunately a few families, and has been transmitted to them, an heirloomfrom generations away back in the dim past," wrote Huntington. "It is spokenof by those in whose veins the seeds of the disease are known to exist, witha kind of horror, and not at all alluded to except through dire necessity, when it is mentioned as 'that disorder.'"
"...It begins as an ordinary chorea might begin, by the irregular and spasmodic action of certain muscles, as of the face, arms, etc. These movements gradually increase when muscles hitherto unaffected take on the spasmodic action,until every muscle in the body becomes affected (excepting the involuntary ones), and the poor patient presents a spectacle which is anything but pleasant to witness."
Huntington also recognized the effects of the disease on the mind: "The tendency to insanity, and sometimes that form of insanity which leads to suicide,is marked...."
The paper was written within one year of Huntington's graduation from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. After practicing briefly with his father on New York's Long Island, he had moved to Palmyra, Ohio.But he found Ohio did not agree with him and he returned in 1874 to DuchessCounty, New York, where he practiced medicine and enjoyed hunting, music, andhis family until his death in 1916 at the age of 66.