Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Denver Area Doctor Makes Breakthrough on Down Syndrome

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Denver Area Doctor Makes Breakthrough on Down Syndrome

Article excerpt

AURORA, Colo. -- Dr. Alberto Costa's discovery that a drug might help the memory of people with Down Syndrome was more than just a breakthrough for him as a scientist.

His daughter, Tyche, was born with the chromosomal condition 17 years ago. The clinical trial that he recently completed, producing cautiously encouraging results about a drug called memantine, was part of a journey that began with her birth.

He found little brain science had been done on people with the abnormality. There was a "huge focus" he says, on preventing their births. His wife, Daisy, had declined the pre-natal testing that might have uncovered Tyche's condition because testing had spurred a miscarriage of a previous pregnancy.

The birth of Costa's daughter, named after the Greek goddess of fortune and chance, wound up reconfiguring his life and his career.

Tyche became his inspiration, and Down Syndrome and the brain, the focus of his research. It was a switch, but not a drastic one, from what he was doing when she came along--research at Baylor University in Houston into how brain cells relate to each other.

"It gives me a sense of purpose," says Costa, 49, a native of Brazil who is now associate professor of medicine and neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. "It was the right purpose at the right time."

"You have this human being in front of you," he says, recalling Tyche's birth. "An individual did not ask to be born--it's your full responsibility.

"And this person is wired to enchant and to bond with you," says Costa, who displays photos of his daughter, wearing bangs, in his office.

In Costa's clinical trial, young men and women with Down Syndrome took memantine, normally used by Alzheimer's patients to improve their memory, for 16 weeks.

The subjects showed statistically significant improvement in one of five key memory tests compared with others who took placebos. It was not a huge outcome, but enough to draw attention from the Down Syndrome community around the world--a lengthy profile of Costa in The New York Times also won him notice --and he is now seeking funding for a broader trial.

Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, which has helped fund Costa's research for six years, says he made a crucial link between Alzheimer's and Down Syndrome that will affect future research. …

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