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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA researchers make new test to treat Down’s

    A group led by UA professor Lynn Nadel said that they are a few months away from publishing an article that would highlight their research in the treatment of a disorder that affects one in 800 births: Down syndrome.

    “”Everybody around the world is interested in this,”” Nadel said. “”This is a culmination of about three years of work.””

    He said the team developed a new test to monitor variances in patients’ cognitive ability. The test targets certain areas of the brain where researchers feel there are significant levels of risk in the development of brain function.

    Those specific regions in the brain are the hippocampus, which regulates certain types of memory; the prefrontal cortex, which is important for executive function and short-term planning; and the cerebellum, which is integral for certain aspects of motor function.

    “”All three of those brain systems seem to be particularly at risk in Down syndrome. So those are the ones we are targeting and … we have two or three tests targeted toward those brain regions,”” Nadel said. The tests given will also include a set of questions that will be a product of the initial answers.

    Nadel, who has been studying Down syndrome for nearly 25 years, said the project was inspired by the need to know more about the level of functionality in individuals diagnosed with the disorder.

    “”If we were going to make any progress and understand how to help every one of them do the best they could possibly do, we needed to have some standardized, targeted set of tests we could use to figure out exactly what their strengths were and weaknesses are,”” Nadel said.

    He said there are only some specific aspects of individual’s behavior that when diagnosed with Down syndrome are particularly bad. Once discovered, those are the areas that need to be treated.

    “”It’s not simply an across-the-board thing,”” Nadel said. “”There are some things they’re particularly good at … and then they’re some things they’re particular bad at.””

    According to the National Institutes of Health, Down syndrome is a result of having an extra copy of chromosome 21; a normal fertilized egg has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Effects of Down syndrome include congenital heart disease, hearing problems, intestinal problems and skeletal problems.

    Nadel is optimistic that the tests will one day lead to possible intervention methods.

    “”We need a kind of before-and-after method,”” he said. “”We need to know this is how they are doing before the treatment … and then we will measure it after.””

    Nadel added he hopes the tests will become the benchmark that researchers can use to determine the effectiveness of treatments.

    Team member Jamie Edgin, who started assisting Nadel two years ago, said the tests may be used to gauge individuals beyond the original intended 8 to 18-year-old age range.

    “”That’s where we started,”” she said. “”Now we’ve already started applying to older people with Down syndrome … now up until 18 to upper 40s.””

    Edgin, who was also instrumental in getting members of the community involved in the test, said the program has been well received.

    “”It went really well,”” Edgin said. “”The community here has welcomed us and given us a lot of great support.””

    She added that the program is very rewarding for all UA students involved.

    “”We have so much student response … they’re getting a really rich experience in working with the kids one-on-one … that’s something … they can take with them later.””

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