UK HealthCare

UK Sanders-Brown Faculty Receive Grant to Study Down Syndrome


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 19, 2009) – Drs. Elizabeth Head and Frederick Schmitt at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging have been awarded a five-year grant for a dedicated study of aging in adults with Down syndrome. The $2.4 million grant was awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health.

[IMAGE1]"The goals of the project are to follow clinical changes in adults with Down syndrome as they age, to examine brain changes using magnetic resonance imaging and to measure blood biomarkers," said Head, associate professor, Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and a faculty member in the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. "In combination, the study hopes to identify early markers of the development of Alzheimer's disease in this very vulnerable population."

[IMAGE2]The study will recruit and follow for five years, 40 persons with Down syndrome over the age of 35.  In addition, 10 to 12 people with Down syndrome and Alzheimer disease will be recruited for a single research session.

"We will have participants assessed on a six month basis using tests of language, learning and memory," said Head. "Each year, we will measure brain changes using magnetic resonance imaging 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, professor, Department of Neurology, UK College of Medicine, and a faculty member in the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. "This study along with others of its type could provide important information in the development of treatments for, and prevention of, dementia in Down syndrome and could also lead to insights into treatments and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in people without Down syndrome."

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. 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. Ed Maxwell, UK Department of Psychiatry; Dr. Harold Kleinert, UK Human Development Institute; as well as from members including Betsy Dunnigan, acting deputy commissioner of the Kentucky State Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Traci Brewer, chairperson of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Kentucky; and Janet Gora, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinatti.

For more information, please contact Roberta Davis at (859) 323-6316 or