Recent research, from Rutgers University, may have found a way to potentially target key genes during fetal development—leading to a treatment for Down syndrome before birth.

The research, which was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, focused on one specific gene (the OLIG2 gene) on human chromosome 21. So why chromosome 21? Babies born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of this chromosome, accounting for the differences in body and brain development.

photo: Suhyeon Choi via Unsplash 

While the study didn’t find a “treatment,” the researchers were able to create a 3D model of the human brain as well as a mouse brain model. The models, made with implanted human stem cells, will allow researchers to explore early brain development and potential prenatal therapies.

Experiments using the models found an overproduction of inhibitory neurons (these help the brain function smoothly) with the addition of the OLIG2 gene. But inhibiting the gene led to functional improvements.

Not only can the 3D models potentially help infants with Down syndrome before they’re born, but it may also lead to discoveries in other areas, such as autism spectrum disorder or Alzheimer’s disease research.

—Erica Loop



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