UCL News


LonDownS awarded £2.5m for research into Down syndrome, learning disabilities and dementia

17 October 2012


Dr André Strydom (UCL Mental Health Sciences Unit) and Professors Elizabeth Fisher and John Hardy (both UCL Institute of Neurology) have been successful in their application to the Wellcome Trust for a Strategic Award to understand the processes involved in the Alzheimer’s Disease that often occurs as people with Down Syndrome age.

The London Down Syndrome (LonDownS) Consortium's successful bid, worth £2.5 million, also incorporates researchers from other institutes, including Professor Dean Nizetic (Queen Mary, University of London) and Dr Victor Tybulewicz (MRC National Institute for Medical Research), along with Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith (Birkbeck College Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, University of London).

Down Syndrome is the most common condition involving learning disability, and arises because people have an extra copy of chromosome number 21. The project aims to understand individual differences in the genetic, molecular and cellular basis of Down Syndrome with respect to brain changes during infant development and ageing, associated with specific cognitive phenotypes including Alzheimer’s disease. It aims to understand why some people with Down Syndrome go on to get dementia, and others do not, despite almost every adult with Down Syndrome having Alzheimer’s brain pathology.

This is the most advanced research project on cognition in Down Syndrome... the findings will also have implications for the early identification and treatment of Alzheimer's disease in the general population.

Dr André Strydom, UCL Mental Health Sciences Unit

Principal Applicant, Dr André Strydom, said: “This project brings together researchers from different disciplines to tackle the cognitive problems associated with Down Syndrome. We want to understand why people with Down Syndrome are much more likely than the general population to develop Alzheimer’s disease (dementia), and we will also look for markers that can identify those who go on to develop dementia before they present with problems. We are hoping to identify risk factors for dementia during infancy, which will help us to target preventative treatments. We will also learn much more about the learning difficulties of Down Syndrome, which may lead to new treatments. It is the most advanced research project on cognition in Down Syndrome that we know of and the findings will also have implications for the early identification and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in the general population.”

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of UCL's Faculty of Brain Sciences, said: “I am particularly delighted at the success of this award – it is an imaginative and innovative approach to the extremely important issue of dementia, building on the internationally acknowledged expertise of the applicants. It moves seamlessly from basic neuroscience to the clinical arena and it is a true model of multidisciplinary working – involving two components of UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences (Institute of Neurology and the Mental Health Sciences Unit), in addition to creating further links with colleagues from neighbouring institutions."

The project involves cutting-edge inter-disciplinary research by leading geneticists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists who will be working closely with the Down’s Syndrome Association and the Down’s Syndrome All Party Parliamentary Interest Group.The project also includes North American and European collaborators to ensure the research is standardised for international programmes.

Professor Fisher said: ‘It is very exciting to be funded to bring together our work on Down syndrome mouse models and directly align them with information from human studies."

Dr Victor Tybulewicz said: “This Award will enable us to translate our work on Down Syndrome from animal models to humans, and will provide new insights into the pathological changes underlying this complex human syndrome."


Media contact: David Weston