One at a time: How a Sanford Burnham Prebys professor changes patient lives

| Written by Miles Martin
Hudson Freeze, Ph.D.

Having worked for decades to improve the lives of children with rare diseases, Hudson Freeze is still on the case.

Hudson Freeze, Ph.D. is not your average researcher. His work focuses on congenital disorders of glycosylation, or CDG, a severe group of diseases that affect fewer than 2,000 children worldwide. Those conditions occur when sugar molecules on many of our proteins are absent or incomplete. That can lead to serious, often fatal, malfunctions in various organ systems throughout the body.

Although Freeze is not a clinician, he is deeply involved in identifying these rare CDG mutations, and providing families with answers to what is often a challenging diagnosis. Because CDG is a group of incurable diseases, families of children with CDG reach out to Freeze almost weekly, seeking help.

“If someone asks for help, I say, ‘Let me try,’” says Freeze. “Any glimmer of hope is a path worth pursuing, anything to make life easier for children with CDG.”

Freeze has been working on CDG for more than 25 years and has worked with more than 300 patients, and he has kept in touch with many of them over the years.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think of them and their struggles—but mostly their smiles,” says Freeze. “It’s the reason we won’t give up on trying to understand them and maybe even finding treatments.”

Hudson Freeze, Ph.D. poses with Damian Omler, who has CDG.

Treating disease with sugar
Although CDG presents as permanent and irreversible mutations, Freeze’s research has been instrumental in discovering an approach to alleviate severe symptoms of CDG—such as seizures—in certain patients. The answer: sugar. Thanks to Freeze and others, there are about 30 patients worldwide who are now taking mannose, a simple sugar molecule, to help alleviate their CDG symptoms.

Today, the strategy of treating diseases with simple sugar molecules is being explored in other glycosylation disorders, as well as less-rare diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetes.

Rare Disease Day at Sanford Burnham Prebys
Freeze’s impact on the lives of families living with CDG extends well beyond the walls of his lab. Since 2010, he has organized an annual Rare Disease Day Symposium each February, where scientists, doctors and families gather from around the world to discuss the latest research and meet other families coping with rare diseases. Last year, the pandemic forced the Institute to press pause on the event, but this year, Rare Disease Day is back in San Diego and stronger than ever.

“It’s a chance for the global CDG community to come together, support one another and continue to put our heads together to find treatments,” says Freeze. “It’s always my favorite weekend of the year, and I’m thrilled that we’re able to do it again safely.”

The 2022 Rare Disease Day Symposium & CDG/NGLY1 Family Conference will take place February 25–27 at the Dana on Mission Bay Resort in San Diego. Scientific sessions will be held on the 25th and 26th, and the Family Conference will take place on the 27th.

Register Here

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