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Surprising Science

Prevent Down Syndrome or Treat It?

Dr. Alberto Costa, who devoted his career to researching Down syndrome when his daughter was born with the disorder, believes that treatment is as important as prevention.

What’s the Latest Development?

A neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Dr. Alberto Costa devoted his career to studying Down syndrome after his daughter was unexpectedly born with the genetic disorder. Costa has focused on treatments to increase the cognitive capabilities of those with Down, using a drug called memantine that normalizes “how existing [brain] cells use the neurotransmitter glutamate.” Originally tested on mice, Dr. Costa has found that the drug increases the ability of those with Down syndrome to learn and express themselves. 

What’s the Big Idea?

A frustration Dr. Costa has faced, as do many medical researchers, is funding limitations. Down syndrome, though it affects 300,000 to 400,000 Americans, receives a fraction of the grant money given to cystic fibrosis research, which affects about 30,000. Costa believes funding for treating Down syndrome is also limited by the prospect of preventing the disorder through genetic screening during the prenatal period. “The geneticists expect Down syndrome to disappear,” Costa says, “so why fund treatments?” 


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