by Sarah Dingle from ABC Australia:
An ingredient in cough mixture could hold the key to improving language skills for people with Down syndrome.
Researchers from Monash University believe BTD-001 - an ingredient in cough syrup which was first discovered in the 1920s - could improve the memory, language and learning of people with the condition.
Associate Professor Bob Davis, who is the head of the centre for Developmental Disability Health at Monash University, says throughout the last century BTD-001 has been prescribed for everything from persistent coughs to Alzheimer's disease.
"In the 1950s and 60s it was used ... as an ingredient for a drug for people with dementia," he said.
"People with dementia seemed to improve their memory and ... cognitive ability, so the ability to think.
"At that stage the medication had been shown to be safe and while there were some small studies indicating that it seemed to work, it didn't have the large drug trials that are required nowadays."
Since then, Prof Davis says it has been established that BTD-001 improves the conductivity of the nerves in the brain.
He says a US research foundation discovered that in comparison to the general population, the nerves in people with Down syndrome have less conductivity and a diminished ability to store information.
His study, which is based in Australia and New Zealand, is aimed at identifying how memory and cognitive ability is affected by the medication.
Catherine McAlpine, head of Down Syndrome Australia, welcomes the research but has some reservations.
"There are very few research projects into helping people with Down syndrome and the primary area of research is in prenatal testing which has its own ethical boundaries and ethical issues," she said.
"Clearly, if we can do things that help people with Down syndrome be more independent, then that's a good thing for everyone.
"But it can be a little bit complicated when we are talking about quality of life and increased cognition being one and the same because they're not the same thing."
There are about 6 million people with Down syndrome worldwide.
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