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Does Down syndrome need a "cure"?

The right drug regimen might ameliorate some of the cognitive problems of Down syndrome, making it easier for children with Down syndrome to learn and form new memories. That's the main finding of a recent mouse study by a team of Stanford researchers, described in a press release I wrote a few weeks ago.

The research is now generating some thought-provoking back-and-forth in the blogosphere. Canadian blogger Contrarian has twin grandsons with Down syndrome; as he describes in a series of blog entries, his daughter-in-law Jenn (the twins' mom) found the idea that people with Down syndrome need to be "fixed" quite distressing. She wrote:

In the end, for me, this all comes back to people. Josh, Jacob, Mary, Cathy, Kate, Janetthese people have Down Syndrome. These people are my family, my friends, my teachers. Without the benefit of that extra chromosome, they would not be who they are. Their intellectual “impairment” gives them an insight and an emotional intelligence and maturity that I can only aspire to.

At Contrarian's request, Ahmad Salehi, MD, PhD, the researcher who led the Stanford study, provided a response to Jenn's concerns. In part, he says:

The goal of our research is not to change the personality of a person with Down syndrome, but rather to help them lead more independent lives.

There are many aspects of people with Down syndrome that we should consider a blessing. Their positive interactions with others, their cheerfulness and affection, and their nonjudgmental attitude are just a few examples. The question whether all people with Down syndrome need some kind of treatment is entirely personal and completely depends on the individual situation. Nevertheless, not every child with Down syndrome is as lucky as Jenn’s children. There are many places in the world that may not look at Down syndrome the way that Jenn does. For these children, finding a way to even partially restore cognition or preventing further deterioration in their learning and memory would be extremely important and helpful in their very competitive societies.

Salehi's full post, which is well worth reading, is available here. His post is also linked to the blog's earlier discussions, which I found fascinating.

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