A new center combining academic research with the treatment of adults with Down syndrome – one of the first in the country – has opened at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
A primary focus of the new Down Syndrome Center for Research and Treatment (DSCRT) will be investigating the connection between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.
“About 25 percent of individuals with Down syndrome over age 35 increasingly show clinical signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s type dementia,” said William Mobley, MD, PhD, chair of the UCSD Department of Neurosciences, DSCRT executive director and a leading expert in the neurobiology of Down syndrome. “By age 60, more than half show cognitive decline.”
This reality – combined with the fact that advances in health care and education mean that people with Down syndrome are now living longer, fuller lives – underscores the need for more research and better patient care, according to Mobley. Ultimately, he envisions DSCRT as a highly integrated, comprehensive system for conducting research and caring for Down syndrome patients of all ages. “Which, to our knowledge, would represent a first,” Mobley said.
Major emphasis of the new UCSD center will be placed on better understanding the biology of brain circuit formation and the causes of Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome. A recent study, for example, suggests that boosting norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter that helps nerve cells communicate – can reverse cognitive decline and even improve cognition in mice genetically engineered to mimic Down syndrome.
“I believe it might be possible to treat Down syndrome early in life, preserving and restoring cognitive function before it is permanently lost,” Mobley said. “And doing so might also prevent the damage that eventually results in Alzheimer’s disease.”
From Down Syndrome-Alzheimer's Link by University of California, San Diego Health Sciences