A multi-million gift to establish a major new Down syndrome research center is said to be one of the largest ever focused on increasing knowledge of the chromosomal disorder.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said this week that it has received $28.6 million from the Brazil-based Alana Foundation to create the Alana Down Syndrome Center.

The center will aim to increase what’s known about the biology and neuroscience of Down syndrome and work to develop interventions and technologies to improve life for people with the condition.

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“The Alana Foundation’s inspiring gift will position MIT’s researchers to investigate new pathways to enhance and extend the lives of those with Down syndrome,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif.

In the first four years, those behind the new center said they plan to study how the systems, circuits, genes and cells in the brain play a role in Down syndrome.

The center will also focus on understanding the link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, MIT said. And, with postdoctoral and graduate fellowships, another goal is to increase the number of scientists trained in the study of Down syndrome, they said.

“We couldn’t be happier and more hopeful as to the size of the impact this center can generate,” said Ana Lucia Villela who started the Alana Foundation and who has a daughter with Down syndrome. “It’s an innovative approach that doesn’t focus on the disability but, instead, focuses on the barriers that can prevent people with Down syndrome from thriving in life in their own way.”

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