People with Down syndrome exhibit mild to moderate learning disabilities that are caused by an extra 21st chromosome. While in the past it was believed not much could be done to address the cognitive problems associated with this condition, this fact has changed recently.

Today, multiple research institutions are attempting to identify potential drug therapies to address the cognitive disabilities of Down syndrome, says Robert C. Schoen, PhD, president of Research Down Syndrome. This non-profit organization supports efforts to improve memory and learning in individuals with Down syndrome and help them live more independently. This is an especially urgent mission when you consider that over the past few decades, the average life span of people with Down syndrome has increased from their 20s to their 60s, which means that many of them are now outliving their caregivers.

Promising New Down Syndrome Studies

Several major developments in recent years have helped scientists make significant progress in developing new therapeutic strategies for Down syndrome. The first development is the Human Genome Project, which has identified the genes on all human chromosomes, thereby offering more insight into the effects of Down syndrome. The second is the creation of a mouse model with Down syndrome, which now allows scientists to test new methods for treating the impact.

Possible New Treatments for Down Syndrome

Researchers at Stanford University are using the mouse model to study improvements in learning, memory, and communication. These studies can lead to medications that balance the brain's neurotransmissions and counteract nerve cell damage. Meanwhile, another study through Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is researching the impact of a one-dose drug containing a growth hormone that, when given to a young mouse model, could restore brain function in adulthood.

Other noteworthy initiatives include exploring the overlap between Down syndrome and early, and more frequent, onset of Alzheimer's, studying the role of sleep in Down syndrome, and creating a patient registry to help researchers connect with people affected by Down syndrome.

What You Can Do

Although most of the Down syndrome research advances are still a long time away from being available to the general public, Schoen urges people to stay up-to-date on the progress. He also stresses the need for donations toward these types of Down syndrome research initiatives, so scientists can continue to make strides in this area.

Robert C. Schoen, PhD, reviewed this article.




Genomics. "Human Genome Project Information." N.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2013.

Schoen, Robert C. Ph.D., President, Research Down Syndrome. Phone interview 11 Jan. 2013.

Stanford School of Medicine, Down Syndrome Research Center. "Message From the Directors." N.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2013.