Monday, October 28, 2013

A Cure for Down syndrome

New research is offering clues about what is happening in the brains of people with Down syndrome and why they appear to age more rapidly than others. 

Many individuals with Down syndrome get gray hair, wrinkles and even develop Alzheimer's disease in their 40's.  Researchers say they now have more evidence that the cause of this accelerated aging could be a high level of what's known as oxidative stress in the neurons of those with the chromosomal disorder. 

Researchers took skin cells from individuals with Down syndrome which they transformed in order to grow brain cells.  Doing so allowed the scientists to observe how brain cells in those with the chromosomal disorder develop from the start.  They found that communication between brain cells in those with Down syndrome are occurring at just 60 percent of the level seen in typically developing individuals.  Those with the chromosomal disorder had significantly more genes designed to respond to oxidative stress, which occurs when there is tissue damage, and these genes were present from day one in the cells studied.

"This suggests that these cells go through their whole life with oxidative stress, and that might contribute to the death of neurons later on, or increase susceptibility to Alzheimer's," said Anita Bhattacharyya, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked on the study. 

The finding is significant, Bhattacharyya says, because scientists may now be able to use the brain cells they've grown to test or design drugs to potentially treat symptoms of Down syndrome......

When I hear the word 'cure', I think of someone who is sick.  My daughter isn't sick.  Would I like to take away all of her struggles and challenges and make things easy for her, of course, but at what expense. 

Yes, Sophia's extra chromosome has caused her to have health issues.  It has also increased her risks of developing other health issues later in life.  This has been the worst part of having a child with Down syndrome.  The fear that I go through as a parent always thinking that one day these health risks are going to catch up to us and smack us right upside the face.  But the reality is, any child is at risk for developing anything in their life.  But because we have a Down syndrome diagnosis in our back pockets, we become more aware of just how likely it is to have to face certain roads. 

I think all parents of individuals with Down syndrome would like to help make their child's life easier in ways and to prevent, or slow down, the aging process in adults with Down syndrome, but it's still unclear what the costs may be to this new research. 

There is so much more to people with Down syndrome besides health issues and developmental delays.  Most people with Down syndrome offer lessons in patience, kindness, and what it means to be human.  There is something positive that people with Down syndrome contribute to the world.  Would this 'cure' take all of that away too?

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