New Funding for Research Into Alzheimer's in Down Syndrome

Megan Brooks

December 06, 2012

The Alzheimer's Association, the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation have launched an initiative to fund research on Alzheimer's disease in people with Down syndrome.

The organizations are making $1.2 million available (initially) for new research projects and have issued a Request for Applications titled "Understanding the Development and Devising Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease in Individuals with Down Syndrome."

"Through this new initiative, we hope to better understand the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer's in people with Down syndrome in order to get us a big step closer to new treatments," William Thies, PhD, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's Association, said in a statement. "The eventual goal is to advance the charge toward better Alzheimer's therapies for people with Down syndrome and for people without it."

A Growing Need

Thanks to improved medical care, people with Down syndrome are now regularly living into their 60s; the average lifespan is now 55 years. As a result, many will develop Alzheimer's disease.

People with Down syndrome are thought to be at heightened risk for Alzheimer's disease because they carry an extra copy of chromosome 21, which contains the gene that encodes the amyloid precursor protein, the primary component of plaques. People with Down syndrome often develop amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their 30s and 40s.

In an interview with Medscape Medical News, Dean Hartley, PhD, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer's Association, said the funding initiative for research on Alzheimer's in people with Down syndrome grew out of a workshop held in September and cosponsored by the Alzheimer's Association, the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

"We felt it was important to convene experts in the Alzheimer's field and the Down syndrome field to figure out where we have commonality," Dr. Hartley explained. One significant outcome of that workshop, he said, is this "much-needed joint grant-making program that can clearly help both of our populations."

Dr. Dean Hartley

Many Alzheimer's researchers have been studying Alzheimer's and Down syndrome "for some time, but kind of as a secondary" project, Dr. Hartley said, because they haven't necessarily seen the funding to move forward.

Through this initiative, funding will be directed toward preliminary pilot research or "proof-of-principle" studies that can provide strong initial data, which will help scientists then obtain additional research support for larger-scale projects from other funding agencies.

Specific topics for funding, which, Dr. Hartley noted, should "help grow the field," include the following:

  • Can animal models of Down syndrome provide new insights into the initiation and development of Alzheimer's disease?

  • Are therapies given before the emergence of dementia symptoms capable of slowing or blocking the development of Alzheimer's in cellular and animal models of Down syndrome?

  • Could early, nondrug interventions not only reduce the early physical and intellectual challenges caused by Down syndrome but also slow and/or reduce the onset of Alzheimer's disease?

  • Can Alzheimer's biomarkers be used in people with Down syndrome to identify the earliest onset of changes related to Alzheimer's disease?

  • Can cognitive tests be developed to measure Alzheimer's disease–related memory impairment and early dementia in people with Down syndrome?

Proposals will be considered from both senior investigators and new investigators independently. Each senior investigator award has a maximum of $300,000 for 2 to 3 years. Each new investigator award has a maximum of $150,000 for 2 or 3 years.

Funding will be awarded by August 30, 2013. For submission criteria, deadlines, and other details, contact grantsapp@alz.org or call 1-312-335-5747 or 1-312-335-5862.

Alzheimer's remains a "very underfunded area," Dr. Hartley said. "This funding initiative we hope will nucleate not only further directions in terms of research but also bring together other people that would be interested in funding this space."

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