Can Down’s Syndrome Help Cure Alzheimer’s?
By Shlomo Maital
About eight years ago, the BBC reported this:
Scientists believe they have found a possible cause for mental impairment in Down’s syndrome. They have identified a gene that, if over-produced, can cause some brain cells to stop working properly. The next step, say the US researchers in journal Neuron, is to find the mechanism for the process. This, they say, could ultimately lead to finding a way to “turn down” the gene expression so mental decline might be stopped or even reversed. People with Down’s syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, instead of the normal two – this is called trisomy 21. ….Many people with Down’s syndrome go on to develop dementia, similar to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, by the age of 40. In both Down’s syndrome and this form of Alzheimer’s, brain cells, or neurons, responsible for learning, memory and attention, wither and die. Lead researcher Professor William Mobley, director of the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University, said: “We’ve been interested in those neurons and why they get sick for some time.”
Now, reports the BBC, in its excellent Science program, Down’s syndrome persons are making major contributions to Alzheimer’s research. Because Down’s syndrome individuals almost all develop the same type of ‘plaque’ dementia that afflicts Alzheimer’s sufferers, potential preventive drugs can be tested on Down’s syndrome persons well before they are 40, to see which drug actually works as a preventative, and whether such drugs really do prevent the brain’s neurons from being gummed up by protein.
It would be truly wonderful, if the Down’s syndrome persons willing to help scientists research Alzheimer’s really do help find a drug that acts as a preventative. Perhaps one day, just as many of us take 75 mg. of aspirin daily as a stroke preventive, we will take 75 mg. of a preventive drug daily– and the scourge of Alzheimer’s dementia will be defeated. Once the protein plaque has taken hold, little can be done. But clearly the direction for battling Alzheimer’s lies in preventing or forestalling it. Let’s hope.
Thanks, Down’s people. We love you.