Stem cell research yields Down syndrome breakthrough

via NIH

“This appears to be one of the most important scientific advancements in the field since French physician Jerome Lejeune identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal condition in 1959,”

Two UMass Medical School researchers used a naturally occurring “off switch” to shut down the chromosomes that cause Down syndrome during laboratory experiments that used human stem cells, according to a press release from the school.

This discovery could lead to treatment and therapy based on the chromosome that causes the condition, rather than treatment based on its symptoms, the researchers said.

“Our hope is that for individuals living with Down syndrome, this proof-of-principal opens up multiple exciting new avenues for studying the disorder now, and brings into the realm of consideration research on the concept of ‘chromosome therapy’ in the future,” said lead researcher Jeanne B. Lawrence, professor of cell and developmental biology.

The news was met with guarded applause by a Bay State advocacy group which praised the research, but warned of ethical concerns for parents of children with Down syndrome.

“This appears to be one of the most important scientific advancements in the field since French physician Jerome Lejeune identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal condition in 1959,” Maureen Gallagher, executive director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress said in a statement. “It’s important for us to understand that any direct therapeutic implications as a result of this new research is many years away and that although it is an exciting discovery, it will bring with it many ethical and emotional issues for the Down syndrome community.“

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Boy with Down Syndrome using cordless drill to assemble a book case. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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