Down Syndrome Research Also Can Benefit Other Health Conditions

For National Birth Defects Prevention Month, Speak Now for Kids is highlighting various birth defects and resources available to help in promoting birth defects prevention.

NDSS_logo_1-2017.jpgFor those who observe National Birth Defects Prevention Month, people with Down syndrome have something special to offer. They offer enormous potential for scientific discoveries that can provide new insights into how to better treat people with other health conditions that are also common in people with Down syndrome.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), at least one-half of all children with Down syndrome have one or more co-occurring conditions, which include Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia, congenital heart disease, autism spectrum disorders, sleep apnea and epilepsy. People without Down syndrome who live with these conditions have the potential to benefit from a concerted and coordinated interdisciplinary effort to examine their correlation and impact on individuals with Down syndrome.


Down syndrome is a condition in which a person is born with a third copy of chromosome 21, instead of two. The extra copies of genes present in Down syndrome cause developmental problems and health issues.  

Due to advances in medical technology, individuals with Down syndrome are living longer than ever before and continue to exceed expectations. Each year, more of them live independently, go to college, work competitive jobs, get married, live to their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. Today, as many as 80 percent of adults with Down syndrome reach the age of 60 – and many live even longer.

Because people with Down syndrome are living longer, scientists are focusing considerable resources on studying many of the coexisting conditions in Down syndrome in an effort to provide new insights into how best to treat all people with those conditions, not just those with Down syndrome.

For example, most individuals with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s characteristics in the brain by their 30s and 40s, and up to 80 percent develop clinical dementia as they age. Understanding the disease process in people with Down syndrome could help in the discovery of new drugs and other treatments for others with or on the path to Alzheimer’s disease.

Likewise, people with Down syndrome are at a much lower risk of being afflicted with solid tumors than the general populations. Scientists believe that genetic and molecular factors appear to protect individuals with Down syndrome from some types of cancers, and new research into those factors could enable discoveries about how cancers develop and how to combat them.

A significant advocacy priority for NDSS is supporting funding for biomedical research. We are not looking to cure Down syndrome, but merely to address the various medical, physical and psychiatric conditions that result from the triplication of the 21st chromosome in an effort to improve quality of life for individuals with Down syndrome.

With significant new resources being provided to the National Institutes of Health, including the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) and Precision Medicine Initiatives, there is great promise for learning more about the various medical, physical and psychiatric conditions that result from the triplication of the 21st chromosome. This will improve the quality of life for not only for individuals with Down syndrome, but for others who suffer from many of those same health conditions.

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