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SALT LAKE CITY — New research coming out of the University of Utah could potentially change the treatments for people with Down syndrome.
In the study, Dr. Julie Korenberg and her team at the University of Utah's Center for Integrated Neuroscience and Human Behavior used functional MRI to study how a brain with Down syndrome functions.
For two years, the neuroscientists studied the brains of 15 people with Down syndrome and compared their brain images to those of 15 "healthy" control patients. It's the first time it's ever been done, and Korenberg said the discoveries are groundbreaking.
"You're not just looking at how big or small, or what shape something is. You're actually watching the brain as it functions," Korenberg said.
What researchers discovered was "the regions (of the brain) that are close together, in the Down syndrome brain are far too over-connected, as if there are too many roads connecting two villages or cities in Utah," Korenberg said. Additionally, they found that regions that are farther apart aren't connected at all in a Down syndrome brain.
Korenberg compared the images it to someone taking a sleeping pill. When their brain is fuzzy, it's harder to connect thoughts.
The new brain-imaging research is giving mothers like Nancy Nelson greater hope. She was 18 weeks pregnant when she found out her son Skyler would be born with Down syndrome.
"That began a journey of learning about Down syndrome and what it would mean for our family and for him," Nelson said.
Skyler is now 13 years old. As he grows older, his mother worries about his future. "That he can be a contributing member to society is a concern I think he will face," she said.
Now the information compiled by Korenberg and her team will help doctors to come up with more effective treatments for people like Skyler.
"It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for accelerating therapeutics with Down syndrome and for other developmental disorders (such as autism, Alzheimer's disease and anxiety)," Korenberg said.
Findings from the University of Utah study were published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical. Read the study in its entirety by visiting http://www.sciencedirect.com.
Contributing: Jordan Ormond