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Medical discovery triggers debate of Down syndrome 'cure'

About 400,000 people in the U.S. are living with Down syndrome, with about 6,000 babies born with the condition each year. Down syndrome is a congenital disorder, with an extra copy of chromosome 21 in the body's cells being the cause of 95 percent of cases. While cognitive impairment is probably the best-known symptom, Down Syndrome can also increase the risk of heart defects, problems with breathing and hearing, Alzheimer's disease and other serious medical problems.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School say that a recent breakthrough could lead to the reduction of those risks someday. They say they have been found an "off switch" within chromosomes that might be able to "neutralize the extra chromosome responsible" for Down syndrome.

In other words, this research could lead to the elimination of some Down syndrome symptoms at the chromosomal level someday. But while the lead researcher cautions that it would not be possible to "cure" Down syndrome this way, some observers say they are troubled by the prospect of a world without Down syndrome.

"The world would lose something from the absence of that culture," said the co-director of the Down Syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, whose sister has Down syndrome. An executive with the National Down Syndrome Society says the focus should be on making it possible for people with the condition to lead full, healthy lives.

A diagnosis of Down syndrome may qualify an adult or child for Supplemental Security Income, depending on income level. SSI is a need-based program for individuals who are unable to work for at least 12 months due to their condition, or for parents of children with a disability.

Source: Deseret News, "Scientists find it is possible to 'silence' chromosome that causes Down syndrome," Chelynne Renouard, Aug. 12, 2013

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