Pre-onset dementia plaques in the brain

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has commissioned a three-year study into people with Down syndrome as it believes it could lead to new drug developments for Alzheimer’s suffers.

The pilot study aims to identify the early changes that precede dementia, which affects 75% of Alzheimer’s patients, in Down syndrome suffers.

J&J neuroscience drug development global head, Dr Husseini Manji, said; "The study we’re proposing would provide insight into treating Alzheimer’s, but it might help individuals with Down syndrome as well."

People born with Down syndrome have a third copy of chromosome 21, giving them a duplicate of the gene that makes amyloid precursor protein (APP).

In Alzheimer’s suffers APP is linked with the development of plaques in the brain, and the mutation of the gene is believed to cause most cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Dementia develops much earlier in people with Down syndrome, often in their 30s and 40s, which is thought to be due to the otherwise harmless extra APP gene.

The new study was announced at a workshop in Chicago for Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s experts, reports Reuters.

The eventual aim of the study is to garner support for a bigger public-private partnership funded by drug makers, which will study over 1,000 people with Down Syndrome from an early age, and eventually test dementia treatments.

Alzheimer’s researchers as yet have failed to make a breakthrough in treating the disease.

Early trials of a J&J and Pfizer bapineuzumab drug recently failed, so companies are looking to test possible drugs and treatments earlier.

Image: Pre-onset dementia plaques in the brain. Photo: Courtesy of GFDL-self.