What is the LuMind Foundation?
In the past 30 years, there has been outstanding progress in increasing the life span of people with Down syndrome. The mission of the LuMind Foundation is to provide these now longer lives with more opportunities and greater independence.
LuMind Foundation was established in 2004 to stimulate biomedical research that will accelerate the development of treatments to significantly improve cognition, including memory, learning and speech. The founders of the LuMind Foundation know there is a future in the knowledge unlocked by the mapping of our DNA.
Isn't Down syndrome too complex to treat?
For many years, scientists believed that Down syndrome was too complex to understand, and they believed that there was no way to reverse or reduce the severity of cognitive impairment. However, via two distinct approaches, over the last decade scientists have made unprecedented progress towards identifying a treatment to ameliorate the cognitive impairment associated with Down syndrome. The first approach is based on genetics. Scientific advances have made it possible to understand how specific genes are linked to specific abnormalities in the structure and function of the brain. Although the 21st chromosome has hundreds of genes, researchers believe that there may be only a handful that significantly impact cognition. Using advanced techniques and methods, researchers believe they will be able to isolate the effects of these specific genes and determine how their expression in the brain can cause problems with cognition. The second approach is to study the endpoints of brain structure and function in mouse models. By investigating the physical differences and the resulting functional impacts, researchers are able to define specific mechanisms responsible for cognitive dysfunction. Once these are established, they can begin the process of discovering treatments that enhance brain function, including cognition. Today we can boldly predict that Down syndrome is not too complex to understand and it is not too difficult or too late to treat.
Is a treatment a cure?
No. Once a baby is born with Down syndrome, he or she will always have an extra chromosome. However, research may be able to reverse or ameliorate the affects of the extra chromosome, particularly with regard to the degree of mental retardation. No one can say for sure how much cognition could be improved. However, even a modest improvement of 15 IQ points could have enormous impact on the life of a person with Down syndrome. Because the majority of individuals with Down syndrome fall into the mild to moderate range of cognitive impairment, an extra 15 IQ points would enable most persons with Down syndrome to function much more independently in school and the workplace.
What is the LuMind Foundation's research focus?
LuMind Foundation believes that the most promising and cutting-edge Down syndrome research today involves understanding the underlying genetic, biological and neurological processes in Down syndrome and how they relate to one another to cause cognitive dysfunction. The area of the brain of most interest to researchers is the hippocampus, which is essential for learning and memory. Of particular interest in this region of the brain are the areas between brain cells, where information is transferred between neurons. These areas are called synapses, and evidence suggests that the structure and function of synapses in a Down syndrome brain are abnormal, causing cognitive deficits. Defining these brain abnormalities, documenting the time of their occurrence, and developing methods to evaluate them are an important focus of current Down syndrome research.
The underlying genetic and biological causes of the brain abnormalities are another focus of current research. Researchers hypothesize that the activity of one or more genes on chromosome 21 causes the structure and function of the hippocampus to be abnormal. They have begun to identify the genes responsible for certain critical brain abnormalities and to study how an over-expression in the brain can affect cognition. The next step is to identify pharmaceutical agents that can turn down or turn off the expression of these genes in critical areas of the brain with the hope of restoring the brain to normal function.
To date, the LuMind Foundation’s strategic and robust approach has generated results that are recognized as unprecedented in this field, including the identification of the first five potential drug targets and the validation and pre-clinical work associated with three of the targets.
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