Wednesday, February 8, 2012

brain imaging study to explain connection between Down syndrome and Alzheimer's

from Varsity Online:

The University has unveiled an ambitious £1 million brain imaging study this week, which is investigating why people with Down syndrome are at such a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s in later life. With the exception of a few rare familial links to the devastating disease, Down syndrome is the only disorder known to correlate so clearly with dementia.

Professor Tony Holland, of the Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group, the organization charged with leading the research, has stated that almost 100% of people with Down syndrome with go on to develop dementia. Even more worryingly for these sufferers and their families is Professor Holland’s assertion that symptoms of dementia often manifest themselves up to 40 years earlier in those who have Down syndrome.

Recent medical advances may mean that those with Down syndrome are living longer and better lives, but this increase in life expectancy is leaving more and more sufferers at the risk of developing dementia, a consequence that Professor Holland described as a ‘poisoned chalice’ for patients. He is now urging those with Down syndrome to come forward as volunteers for this groundbreaking project.

The four-year study, funded through the Medical Research Council in partnership with the Down Syndrome Association intends to examine the role of beta amyloid in the development of Alzheimer’s. Scientists are already aware that people with Down syndrome have more amyloid in their brains and hope that their findings will shed light on the causes of this specific form of dementia for the population as a whole.

Across the UK, 700,000 people are diagnosed with dementia annually at a cost of £17 billion. Dementia is commonly associated with memory loss but is also responsible for changes in mood as well as communication and reasoning problems. The degenerative nature of the disease means that sufferers will inevitably end up needing round the clock care.

With the UK population set to rise to 70 million by 2027, it seems this funding boost has come at just the right time.

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