The announcement of a study that seems to have reversed some of the characteristics of Down syndrome in mice has caused some over hyped reports of a “cure” for the genetic disorder that is somewhat wide of the mark.
However the actual research has proven to be impressive enough, even though it is unlikely to result in a single, magic bullet “cure” that will cause infants born with Down syndrome to develop normal brains. According to a piece in IO9, mice that had been genetically engineered to exhibit some characteristics of the genetic disorder were given a single molecule the day they were born called SAG. As a result their brains developed structurally as normally as did ordinary mice. However the functionality of the treated mice brains did not develop as normally. There were still deficits in the prefrontal cortex which is “associated with cognitive functions like planning, moderating social behavior, and decision-making.”
Thus, while animal studies are not necessarily translatable for humans, this study will certainly not immediately lead to a “cure” for Down syndrome. At best it is one piece of a very complicated puzzle that will likely take some years to develop.
The study was also not a cure for human folly, as evidence by a post by Mary Fischer that mused on the ethical questions involving a parent actually allow his or her child to be “cured” of the genetic disorder should something like that come to pass.
“After thinking long and hard about what I would do if I had a baby with Down syndrome and there was the option of trying to reverse it — the decision suddenly became crystal clear. I’m just not sure I could bring myself to do it — unless I knew 100 percent that there were absolutely no risks involved — and that I wasn’t necessarily “changing” who my baby was by allowing the treatment.
“Here’s the thing — I’m an “everything happens for a reason and things are meant to be” type of person. And when it comes to babies, I firmly believe that you get the child you are supposed to have — and you love that baby unconditionally no matter what.
“I think that if I were to have a baby born with Down syndrome — it would feel like I was somehow monkeying with nature by injecting him with something to physically alter who he is simply because he’s not “perfect,” — and something about that doesn’t seem right.”
The thought that curing diseases is somehow “monkeying with nature” or making an affront to the will of God has been around since both medicine and religion have been around. Fischer does not express her doubts in religious terms, but she might as well had when considering whatever the basis is for her disquiet, which seems to be her own feelings.
Most parents, whether their child has a disease such as leukemia, is deaf or blind, or has a genetic disorder like Down syndrome would move heaven and earth if medical science provided a solution. That’s because most parents want their children to have the best chance possible to succeed in life. Unfortunately while children with Down syndrome are loved just as much by good parents as those who do not, the fact remains that life will forever be challenging and limited for them. A “cure,” whatever that means, would be a boon for them and for all humankind.