Brain development in babies with Down’s syndrome

This project is jointly funded by Sparks and charity partner Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity through the National Research Funding Call.

Every year, in the UK, approximately 750 babies are born with Down’s syndrome. Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that results in some level of learning disability and a particular range of physical characteristics.

About Down’s syndrome

The condition is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome – a package that carries our genetic information. All children with Down’s syndrome will have some level of learning disability but each individual child will be affected in different ways. It is currently difficult to predict to what extent a child will be affected – information which can help families prepare and plan for the future.

Currently, very little is known about how Down’s Syndrome alters the way the brain grows and develops and exactly how that leads to learning disabilities. Professor Mary Rutherford is an expert in brain development and imaging and wants to use her expertise to help understand brain development in babies with Down’s syndrome.

All children with Down’s syndrome will have some level of learning disability but each individual child will be affected in different ways.

The research

Professor Rutherford and her team from King’s College London will use sophisticated MRI scanning to understand how the brain develops in babies in the womb and after birth. The detailed pictures they collect will let them precisely measure the growth of the brain, as well as details about its structure and function during this crucial period of early life. They will also study cells in the lab to understand some of the processes that are altered in Down’s Syndrome.

Impact

People with Down’s Syndrome can have complex and life-long complications associated with the condition. Professor Rutherford hopes this research will better enable clinicians to provide families with tailored information about the level of learning disability children are likely to face. This will help to give children with Down’s syndrome the best chance of fulfilling their potential.

Understanding brain development in babies with down’s syndrome

Researcher: Mary Rutherford
Location: Kings College London
Grant: £203,084.41

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