Huntington’s disease is going to kill him, but this Bellingham scientist is tackling it head-on

What would you do if you learned you had an incurable terminal illness? Jeff Carroll, a professor at Western Washington University, has dedicated his time to researching Huntington’s disease.

BELLINGHAM — After Jeff Carroll got tested to see if he’d die prematurely from a hereditary disease that killed his mother and grandmother, a doctor unfolded the results, checked to see if Carroll still wanted them, then read them aloud.

Carroll was 25 when he learned he had the rare gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.

Megan Carroll, his wife, was so shaken she couldn’t find words.

“Jeff asked almost immediately for a job,” she recalled of her husband’s desire to help in some way.

Huntington’s disease is relentless in its attack on brain cells. Still uncurable, it robs people of memory and personality and strikes them with involuntary, jerky movements that only get worse. Carroll’s mother wore socks on her hands in her last days in a nursing home because her thrashing had become so violent. She died at 54.

“Born smart and stubborn,” according to colleague Dr. Ed Wild, Carroll has responded by immersing himself in the study of Huntington’s in the hope of prolonging lives, including his and those of three younger siblings who also have the mutated gene.

The high-school dropout from Kent and former Army corporal bootstrapped his way through a Ph.D., did postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School, and became a tenured psychology professor at Western Washington University.

Now, 39, wearing Chuck Taylor high-tops and a nose ring at work, Carroll is a neuroscientist who has…

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