Aging Study Seeks Adults with Down Syndrome

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 18, 2010) – Life expectancy for individuals with Down syndrome has increased dramatically - from a life expectancy of only  25 years a generation ago, to greater than 60 years today. As individuals with Down syndrome live longer than ever before, they also confront more problems associated with aging - including Alzheimer's and dementia. Complications resulting from Down syndrome increase the risk of Alzheimer's, and can accelerate the onset of memory disorders. To better understand - and hopefully ameliorate - this set of circumstances, the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is seeking individuals with Down syndrome, age 35 and up, to participate in a research study designed to identify early markers of the development of Alzheimer's disease in individuals with Down syndrome.

The study is headed by Sanders-Brown researchers Elizabeth Head and Frederick Schmitt, and is funded by a five-year, $2.4 million grant awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health. Study organizers are seeking individuals with Down syndrome, either with or without symptoms of a memory disorder or dementia.

Participants will be tracked to follow any neurological, cognitive and memory changes, as well as to examine brain changes via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and regular measurement of biomarkers in blood. Each participant will be asked to come to the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging twice a year.

"We will have participants assessed on a six month basis using tests of language, learning and memory," said Head, associate professor, Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology, UK College of Medicine, and a researcher in Sanders-Brown." Each year, we will measure brain changes using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and specifically look for changes in white matter integrity – fibers that connect different parts of the brain. We will also use protein profiling methods to measure changes with age in the blood of our participants."

"This is an exciting opportunity to improve our knowledge about how and why persons with Down syndrome show pronounced changes in brain aging," said Schmitt, who also holds an appointment as professor, Department of Neurology, UK College of Medicine. "This study, along with others of its type, could provide important information in the development of treatments for, and prevention of, dementia in people with Down syndrome and could also lead to insights into treatments and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in people without Down syndrome."

Volunteers who may be eligible include persons with Down syndrome, age 35 and older with or without signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Volunteers must be interested in participating in a five-year research study. In addition, the volunteer, a family member or caregiver will need to answer questions about their health. Participants and their guardians will not receive direct compensation from the study, however they may benefit from the medical examinations, cognitive testing, blood tests and brain scans provided during the course of the study. If any part of the study examinations reveals evidence of illness or disease, a study physician will notify the participant's guardian and primary care physician within 72 hours.

This longitudinal project is a team effort and includes UK and Sanders-Brown Center on Aging faculty: Dr. Gregory Jicha, Dr. Allison Caban-Holt, Dr. Brian Gold, Dr. David Powell, Dr. Richard Kryscio, Dr. William Robertson, Dr. Stephen Scheff, Dr. Peter Nelson, Dr. Harry LeVine and Dr. Christopher Norris. In addition, Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford University School of Medicine and Dr. Ira Lott at University of California, Irvine, are collaborators. The study scientists also will get input from Dr. Jose DeLeon, UK Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Research Center; Dr. Harold Kleinert, UK Human Development Institute; as well as members including Betsy Dunnigan, acting deputy commissioner of the Kentucky State Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Dr. Allan Brenzel, clinical director with Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities in Frankfort; Traci Brewer, chairperson of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Kentucky; Diana Merzweiler, executive director of Down Syndrome of Louisville Inc.; and Janet Gora, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati.

 For more information or to volunteer for the research study, contact Roberta Davis at (859) 257-1412 extension 479 or