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Could Down Syndrome help to combat Alzheimer's?

Could Down Syndrome help to combat Alzheimer's?
26th August 2014

Individuals with Down Syndrome have participated in a trial to learn more about Alzheimer's disease and how to tackle it. 

This is in light of the fact that such people are up to six times more likely to develop the degenerative condition. 

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) examined individuals with Down Syndrome, which is marked by the presence of an additional chromosome 21. One of the genes associated with this regulates how much amyloid is made, which brings about the sticky plaque that is thought to be a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

"People with Down Syndrome represent the world's largest population of individuals predisposed to getting Alzheimer's disease," director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at UCSD Michael Rafii told NPR. 

"By the age of 40, 100 per cent of all individuals with Down syndrome have the pathology of Alzheimer's in their brain."

Because of this, the vast majority of those with this condition have difficulty with thinking and memory recall by the age of 60. 

One of the main struggles that scientists have is that by the time cognitive decline is diagnosed, it's too late for any drugs to combat the disease effectively. Ideally, treatment needs to start significantly earlier, but it is almost impossible to ascertain who will develop the condition. 

However, in the case of those with Down Syndrome, there's a very high level of certainty. 

In addition to this, if a drug that helps to fight Alzheimer's in these individuals can be produced, it could be of benefit to those without it. 

Chairman of the neuroscience department at UCSD William Mobley bandied around the idea that in the future, everybody could take a drug at the age of 25 that would prevent them from ever developing the degenerative disorder. 

Around 800,000 individuals in the UK have some form of dementia, with this figure expected to hit the one million mark by 2021.

Read more about Barchester's dementia care homes.