New data shows that federal funding for Down syndrome research dropped last year, despite already lagging behind other conditions, and that’s leaving advocates none too pleased.

The National Institutes of Health spent $20 million on Down syndrome research in 2011, according to funding data released earlier this month. The same amount is expected for this year and next.

That’s down from $28 million in 2010 and $22 million in 2009.

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Part of the reason for the decline is a loss of federal stimulus dollars, which had propped up research funding for many conditions in 2009 and 2010.

However, advocates argue the decline in Down syndrome funding is particularly egregious because they say that based on 2010 levels, the chromosomal disorder was already the least funded of the genetic conditions that receive research money from NIH.

In a joint statement this week, three Down syndrome organizations banded together to oppose the cut.

“We are very disappointed,” reads the statement from the National Down Syndrome Congress, the National Down Syndrome Society and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. “While funding for other conditions such as fragile X and cystic fibrosis increased, funding for Down syndrome at the National Institutes of Health is significantly less and has plummeted since 2000.”

The organizations pointed out that research into Down syndrome has benefits beyond those currently affected by the disorder since individuals with Down syndrome are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and other conditions.

By comparison, autism research benefited from $169 million in 2011, while cerebral palsy got $23 million and $29 million went to study fragile X syndrome.

Despite the decline in federal research dollars, there have been some positive signs with regard to Down syndrome research recently. Last fall, the NIH formed a first-ever consortium to help implement the agency’s Down syndrome research plan. What’s more, there is legislation pending in Congress calling for increased funding for Down syndrome research.

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