Well glory hallelujah!

Why can’t I make a nest?

Yesterday I wrote about coming advancements in the possibility of medical intervention to overcome the disabling effects of Down syndrome in the brain.  This was in the context of a promise to a family with a newborn with Downs.

Little did I realize…

In today’s Wall Street Journal there is an article on page A3 entitled “New Attack on Alzheimer’s.”  It reports the success researchers at Case Western Reserve have had in reversing–not preventing–reversing advanced Alzheimer’s in mice bred to develop the disease.

So? You may ask.  Mice are not men and Alzheimer’s is not Down syndrome.

Very true, but what works in a mouse often works in a man, and–something not generally known–all people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s if they live long enough.

So you see, we parents of children with Down syndrome have only a few years to relax between the shock of our kids’ birth and the anxiety of advancing age and what it almost surely will bring for those we have grown to love with all our hearts.

And it comes on 20 years earlier than in the normal population.

There is a “substance of interest” implicated in all this, as the detectives might say, which is well known to researchers.  Its name is beta-amyloid, which everybody has in their brain, which is not a good thing.  However, the healthy brain has a clean-up crew that routinely keeps the beta-amyloid in check.

The Alzheimer’s brain, and very likely the brain on Down syndrome, fails to do that.

Good news:  a drug called bexarotene, generally used for skin cancer treatment, reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice within 72 hours.  Mice with Alzheimers were unable to engage in normal mouse behavior like creating a nest out of paper scraps left in their enclosure.

After beginning treatment with this drug the mice began to make nests. 

Pretty stunning results, but not the first.  Several years ago researchers were able to normalize mice with a substance.  After treatment, mice with Down syndrome who couldn’t run a maze for their dinner were suddenly able to do so.  However, the substance used is highly toxic to humans and not a candidate for our species.

Still the evidence is clearer all the time.  It can be done.  And bexarotene is safe for use in humans.

On February 14, Dr. Michael Harpold, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Foundation for Research and Treatment, will visit Down Home Ranch.   Wednesday the 15th, he, Jerry and I, and others will tour Dr. Jon Pierce-Shimomura’s Down syndrome research lab at the University of Texas.  Then we’ll have a brain-storming session afterwards.

I’m champing at the bit to talk over these new developments with Jon, who works with tiny nematodes instead of mice. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a scientist and this post reflects only my best understanding of what I have been able to glean.  Please check out original souces by clicking on links.