Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in studying Down syndrome as a way to find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s at an earlier age, which is why the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institutes of Health and other researchers in the field of aging are focusing more efforts on Down syndrome research.
Currently, one of the greatest known risk factors for Alzheimer’s is advanced age. One in nine people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, while more than 75% of people with Down syndrome aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s. This staggering majority is why researchers hope that studying Alzheimer’s among people with Down syndrome will inform Alzheimer’s research, potentially helping millions of older adults who suffer from the disease.
Researchers believe that the extra copy of chromosome 21 could be the culprit behind the increased risk of Alzheimer’s for people with Down syndrome. Chromosome 21 contains a gene that is associated with the production of amyloid plaque, and the build-up of amyloid plaque is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
The warning signs of Alzheimer’s are similar between people with Down syndrome and the general population, although with Down syndrome, individuals may experience less-common signs as well, such as hoarding and seizures. In both populations with and without Down syndrome, the biological mechanisms driving Alzheimer’s is the same, so any breakthroughs would prove beneficial to everyone.
Some of the current initiatives include:
- A project to identify biomarkers in the blood and brain that can help recognize Alzheimer’s in people with Down, launched by the National Institutes of Health
- Efforts to develop a blood test to detect who is at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s, funded by the Alzheimer’s Association, the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the nonprofit Global Down Syndrome Foundation
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