Bioethics Blogs

Would a Therapy for Down Syndrome Change Lives For Better or For Worse?

By Sarika Sachdeva
This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Sarika Sachdeva is an undergraduate junior at Emory studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Economics. She is involved with research on stimulant abuse and addiction under Dr. Leonard Howell at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
Researchers around the world are working to develop treatments and cures for all kinds of genetic disorders and abnormalities, but what happens when the people affected by the condition don’t want it taken away? New breakthroughs in treatment are often controversial for non-fatal conditions such as Down Syndrome, which causes inhibited neural communication and leads to learning delays as a result of an extra copy of chromosome 21 (Rochman, 2015).

Recently, a study from the Boston University Medical Center claimed to have identified differences in gene expression that are found in people with Down Syndrome. Previously it was thought that most of the effects of Down Syndrome occurred prenatally, but comparisons between toddlers and adults with the disorder revealed that changes in white matter levels in the brain are actively occurring during development. People with Down Syndrome have defects in their oligodendrocytes, a type of brain cell that forms white matter. This defect causes people with Down Syndrome to have less white matter than unaffected individuals. White matter insulates nerve fibers and facilitates communication between brain cells; thus, decreased white matter formation slows signal transmission and leads to the learning delays associated with Down Syndrome.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.