Defeating dementia in Down’s syndrome

Vinay at home Credit: Down's Syndrome Association

Vinay at home Credit: Down's Syndrome Association

A £1m brain-imaging study has just been launched at the University of Cambridge to investigate why people with Down’s syndrome (DS) are at such high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Almost 100% of people with Down’s Syndrome develop pathological signs of Alzheimer’s, and clinical symptoms are seen in Down’s Syndrome around 40 years earlier than in the general population"

—Professor Tony Holland

There are 700,000 cases of dementia in the UK, costing £17 billion a year, and these figures are predicted to rise with the ageing population. Besides the rare familial forms of Alzheimer’s, DS is the only known disorder in which one can so clearly expect early-onset dementia to develop.

Professor Tony Holland, of the Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group, who is leading the research, said: "Almost 100% of people with DS develop pathological signs of Alzheimer’s, and clinical symptoms are seen in DS around 40 years earlier than in the general population."

The research team is looking for individuals with DS to volunteer to take part in the study. The team has produced a short film – www.youtube.com/user/downsproject – to explain the testing process.

"People with DS are living longer lives, and better lives, but this can be a poisoned chalice, as with this comes a real risk of Alzheimer’s," said Professor Holland. “Now we need volunteers to come forward to help us explore what is happening to the brain."

This four-year study aims to determine the role of beta amyloid, a key factor in causing Alzheimer’s. People with DS may be more vulnerable to this type of dementia as they have more amyloid in their brains (a key amyloid gene is located on chromosome 21, which is triplicated in people with DS). Investigating amyloid in this way will also help understand Alzheimer’s development in the general population.

The term ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms which can include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning. As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s need more support from those who care for them. Eventually, they need help with all their daily activities.

If you have Down’s syndrome or know someone with Down’s syndrome over the age of 30, who might be interested to hear more about this study, please either Tiina or Liam by email on the details below.

Tiina: ta337 [a] medschl.cam.ac (p) uk

Liam: lrw34 [a] medschl.cam.ac (p) uk

Telephone: 01223 746127 (voice mail after office hours)

 
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