Down syndrome congress told of genetic drug study


US RESEARCHERS are “on the verge” of developing treatments to help with some difficulties experienced by people with Down syndrome, delegates at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Dublin were told yesterday.

David Patterson, a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, University of Denver, spoke of his research into the ill-effects of the extra copy of chromosome 21 which causes Down syndrome.

The genetic research could help to develop postnatal drug treatments to help people with Down syndrome including improving their learning and memory.

Studying the genes can explain both the variability of the condition among people with Down syndrome and their susceptibility to health issues, Mr Patterson said.

People with Down syndrome are much more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, leukaemia and congenital heart disease than most others. However, they have a diminished risk of breast and lung cancer, Mr Patterson said. Thus his research could also help to devise therapies for cancer and heart disease in the wider population.

He developed mouse models of Down syndrome which have undergone tests on how a particular treatment might work.

Seven or eight components or drugs have been tested on the mice, which have learning and memory difficulties, he said. These drugs have been used to treat the mice and improve their memory.

Some of the components have previously been used on humans and so could soon be ready for clinical trials, he said.

“We are on the verge of using genetic information to help alleviate some of the difficulties which people with Down syndrome and their families encounter,” he told the conference.

The research has shown that the Down syndrome genes are more complex than simply being three exact copies of chromosome 21, instead of two.

However, it may not be necessary to fully understand these genes in order to devise therapies to treat Down syndrome, he said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the extra chromosome by French geneticist Dr Jérôme Lejeune in 1959, President of Down syndrome International, Penny Robertson, said yesterday.

The conference also heard about ways to improve the self-esteem of people with Down syndrome. Canadian disability consultant David Hingsburger said two messages needed to be passed to people with Down syndrome. One was to be proud of who they are, and second was to know that those who hurt them because they are different are wrong.

In a pre-recorded message to the congress, President Mary McAleese said Dublin was proud to host the event and praised its valuable work.