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UMass Researchers Make Down Syndrome Breakthrough

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondant
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BOSTON (CBS) — Scientists may–one day–eliminate Down Syndrome.

Researchers have been able to silence the extra chromosome that causes the genetic condition.

Susanna Peyton’s son Graham has Down Syndrome. Now 26 years old and the oldest of four children.

Susanna is hopeful this new research may someday address diseases often connected with the syndrome like heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

“The health side of the page would be a benefit, a huge benefit.”

UMass Medical School Doctor Jeanne Lawrence has come up with a way to shut off or silence the extra chromosome which is responsible for the genetic disorder.

“I think this is a breakthrough,” Lawrence said. “For the person with Down Syndrome this a very hopeful breakthrough but it is not going to have an immediate impact.”

The science of switching “off” the extra chromosome is now being tested on mice and perhaps in the not-to-distance future will lead to new therapies and drugs which could even improve cognitive ability.

And ten years from now it could be seen as the very first step to a cure.

“That is a possibility, I don’t want to rule it out but I also don’t want to make it sound like that is going to happen.”

Lawrence’s research actually started six years ago and these promising results were available two and a half years ago. However, they just became public this week.

But there are ethical questions because this possible treatment could fundamentally change someone.

Susanna Peyton says she understands how babies could clearly benefit.

“We have a 26-year-old who we love and adore and we are so proud of him and he is proud of himself. Would we want a change?”

A question as complicated as the science behind it.

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