A ‘cure’ for Down’s syndrome? Scientists discover compound that reverses the learning difficulties caused by the condition
The compound was used to reverse learning disabilities in mice
A compound that reverses Down’s syndrome-like learning disabilities has been identified.
Researchers used the compound to reverse learning disabilities in mice.
However, it only works when given to affected mice on the day of their birth.
The Down’s Syndrome Association has described the finding as of ‘great interest’ but recognises that it would not help people currently living with Down’s syndrome.
U.S. researchers, led by Professor Roger Reeves at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, identified the compound that dramatically boosts the learning ability and memory of mice with a Down’s syndrome-like condition.
They believe that a single dose encourages the cerebellum of the rodents’ brains to grow to a normal size – most people with Down’s syndrome have a cerebellum that is only 60 per cent of the normal size.
After being injected with the compound, the rodents’ were able to function as well as mice without learning disabilities in behavioural tests.
The scientists have warned that use of the compound, a small molecule known as a sonic hedgehog pathway agonist, has not been proved safe for use in people with Down’s syndrome, but say their experiments hold promise for developing drugs like it.
Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association, said: ‘Professor Reeves and his team are part of the respected worldwide Down’s syndrome research community.
‘This successful piece of clinical research will be of great interest to them all.
‘As Professor Reeves explains, this is not going to translate into clinical applications for people currently living with the condition but is another step along the path of understanding the complexity of an extra chromosome 21 in every single cell.’
Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities and a characteristic range of physical features.
Most children with the condition have reduced muscle tone, eyes that slant upwards and low birth weight.
The compound only works when administered on the day of birth. It works by enabling the cerebellum in the brain to grow to a normal size. Image shows the chromosomes of a person with Down’s syndrome
They are also prone to a range of complications such as heart disorders, bowel and digestive problems, poor vision and hearing, thyroid dysfunctions and blood disorders.
The condition affects about 750 babies born in the UK every year.
It is caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 in a baby’s cells.