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Consortium Gets $4M from Wellcome Trust to Investigate Link Between Alzheimer's, Down Syndrome

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Wellcome Trust today announced a new research consortium that will investigate links between Alzheimer's disease and Down syndrome.

With a £2.5 million ($4.0 million) Strategic Award from Wellcome Trust, the consortium, called the London Down Syndrome Consortium, or LonDownS, brings together researchers from multiple disciplines, including genetics, adult and child psychiatry, cognitive neuroscience, and stem cell research in order to better understand the mechanisms of AD and predict as early as infancy which individuals are most at risk for developing the disease.

The five-year study will begin in December.

LonDownS is headed by André Strydom, an adult clinical psychiatrist at University College London, who along with collaborators will conduct research with three cohorts of people with Down syndrome — infants, young adults, and adults 45 years old and above.

The hope is that the research "will help diagnose the disease sooner and design novel treatments to benefit people with Down syndrome as well as those with Alzheimer's disease," he said in a statement.

Adults with Down syndrome are at greater risk of developing AD than the general population, Wellcome Trust said, with onset occurring at an earlier age. It is believed that one reason for this is that key genes implicated in AD, the amyloid beta precursor protein, or APP, gene, is found on chromosome 21, of which people with Down syndrome carry three copies.

Participants in the LonDownS research will provide DNA samples for identifying genes involved in cognitive function and aging in Down syndrome, as well as for identifying genes that increase the risk of developing AD and those that provide protection.
Investigators will develop stem cells with characteristics of Down syndrome, and analogous genes in mice developed by LonDownS scientists will be studied to model Down syndrome.

Such an approach is expected to result in a better understanding of the biology of Down syndrome and the influence of genes on brain function throughout the lives of people with the disorder. New treatments might then be tested in clinical trials to halt the decline in brain function and even reverse the effects of AD.

"The new research consortium is asking a very important and timely question: why people with Down syndrome should also be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's," John Williams, head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at Wellcome Trust, said. "We hope that by examining this link, the researchers will provide valuable insights into the neurodegenerative disorder which will benefit the patients themselves, [and] offer hope to the many families who are affected by dementia in general."

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