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Research Reveals How Down Syndrome Shields Against Cancer
Date:5/20/2009

The findings might someday lead to better treatments, experts say

WEDNESDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- A pair of genes may explain why people with Down syndrome are largely spared from many types of cancer, Boston researchers report.

The same genetic mechanism could be a potent target for new anti-cancer therapies, said the scientists, who published their findings online May 20 in Nature.

The pressing question now becomes, when will this happen? Or will it happen at all?

"Most universities around the country are very good at finding targets for intervention in cancer and this study suggests that these two genes, if they were overexpressed in a tumor, could shut down the tumor blood vessels," explained Dr. Arthur E. Frankel, holder of the Tula Lee Stone Chair in Cancer Research at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

"The problem is that's not such a trivial thing to do," added Frankel, who is also director of the Cancer Research Institute and of hematology/oncology with Scott & White. "The observation is true, but it's not immediately obvious to me that it's going to help anyone in the short term."

Individuals with Down syndrome, the most common genetic cause of mental retardation, carry an extra copy of chromosome 21 and, therefore, extra copies of each of the 231 genes found on that chromosome.

And while people with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing certain types of leukemia compared to the general population, they have just 10 percent the risk of dying from many common solid-tumor cancers, including breast, brain, pancreas, lung and colon cancers.

The phenomenon has long been a scientific riddle.

"In the 1950s at Harvard Medical School, one of the exam questions was, 'Why don't people with Down Syndrome get cancer?' The answer then was because they don't live long enough," said study senior author Sandra Ryeo
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