In what’s being hailed as a major milestone in efforts to treat Down syndrome, researchers say they’ve identified a drug that boosts memory in those with the chromosomal disorder.
The medication memantine — which is currently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease — offered as much as a tenfold memory increase for those with Down syndrome, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“Before now there had never been any positive results in attempts to improve cognitive abilities in persons with Down syndrome through medication,” said Alberto Costa of the University of Colorado School of Medicine who led the study. “This is the first time we have been able to move the needle at all and that means improvement is possible.”
For the study, researchers conducted a 16-week trial involving 38 adolescents and young adults with Down syndrome. Half took memantine while the rest were given a placebo. Scientists then measured adaptive and cognitive function in the two groups.
While researchers found no major differences in most areas of functioning, those taking memantine exhibited significant improvement in so-called “verbal episodic memory.” This would include the ability to memorize a long list of words, for example.
“This is a first step in a longer quest to see how we can improve the quality of life for those with Down syndrome,” Costa said of the findings, noting that there are currently no drugs available to improve brain function in those with the disorder.
Despite the promising results, however, Costa warned that people with Down syndrome should not start taking memantine. He said further research is needed using a larger study group and the drug needs to be tested on younger individuals as well.