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Drug Opens Door To Treating Down Syndrome

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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.

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. Linda says:

    What a wonder, if it works long term in many people! I only hope it does more good than harm.

  2. Leticia Velasquez says:

    The reason there are no drugs available to treat trisomy 21 is that, until recently science considered it an impossible cause. Too complex to be worth the effort to find treatments.
    Only Dr Jerome Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered trisomy 21 in 1959 pursued this research, most of the time, struggling for funding. He alone believed it was not only possible but necessary to find a cure for trisomy 21. Dr Lejeune said, “Again and again we see this absolute misconception of trying o defeat a disease by eliminating the patient! It’s ridiculous to stand beside a patient and solemnly say, “Who is the upstart who refused to be cured? How dare he resist our art? Let’s get rid of him!” Medicine becomes mad science when it attacks the patient instead of fighting the disease. We must always be on the patient’s side, Always.”
    The good doctor would be thrilled to see how his legacy lives on in Dr Acosta, who received funding from the Lejeune Foundation, and how other researchers, like Dr William Mobley, who is conducting clinical trials at Roche Laboratories in New Jersey are picking up the torch.
    The era of hopelessness is over!

  3. geneva schult says:

    An autism researcher I know at UNM in Albuquerque is beginning to conduct trials using this drug for kids with social skills deficits (like my son with asperger’s). Apparently it is showing promise in that area, completely independently from the memory aspects.

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