Is Science Fiction Becoming Reality?
Nov 08, 2013 12:39PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
What a miracle. And perhaps a potential dilemma. One in every 691 people (that’s about 6,000 babies) are born annually in the U.S. with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. In a perfect world, those parents have loved and cherished their children, valuing them for the individuals they are, and nurturing productive, happy members of society. So how do you digest and deal with a treatment that promises to “fi x” those children you already love with all your heart just as they are? What should those parents, and others like them, do?
It wouldn’t be a difficult decision—according to one devoted father we spoke to. He told us that the lifetime focus for his son, born 18 years ago with Down syndrome, has been that his boy live as independent a life as possible. That has been the family’s goal, their mantra. If, he adds, someday in the future a scientific procedure advances that cause, then he’d be all for it. With their eyes firmly on the goal, he didn’t even hesitate to answer.
This study is also prompting researchers to examine the connection between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, and the chromosomal implications of same. As people with Down syndrome live longer and longer lives, more and more of them are developing Alzheimer’s…and at much younger ages than the general population. By the age of 40, 40 percent of people with Down syndrome will develop the disease; by age 50 it’s 50 percent. It is hoped that this puzzling anomaly may hold a key to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, how our brains function, and what gene therapy may play a part. —S.H.