Studying a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease in those with Down syndrome


Written by Norene Casas

How the connection of Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease could be the start to a vaccine against Alzheimer’s.

Significant levels of amyloid beta plaques and tau tangles in the brain are classic hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

These precursors are also prevalent in the understudied population of those with Down syndrome. Although nearly all people with Down syndrome have high levels of this pathology, and their associated brain changes appear by the early age of 40, this population continues to be underserved when it comes to Alzheimer’s research.

People with Down syndrome have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. The 21st chromosome is responsible for a protein that can cause plaques in the brain. Since those with Down syndrome have an extra copy of this chromosome, their brain pathology mirrors that of a person with Alzheimer’s and they have one of the highest risks for developing the disease — three to five times more than the general population.

Testing a vaccine for Alzheimer’s

The Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio is a National Institute on Aging (NIA)- designated center of excellence for dementia care and research. It is one of the 14 clinical trial sites worldwide reviewing a possible vaccine for Alzheimer’s, the ABATE study, which is studying the underrepresented and high-risk group of those with Down syndrome.

“Most of the current clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease do not include those with Down syndrome,” said Sarah Savoia, PA, physician assistant and ABATE study clinical trial investigator at the Biggs Institute.

The ABATE study is seeking participants with a diagnosis of Down syndrome ages 35 to 50 years old, when the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s often begin in this population.

“[Participants] are in an asymptomatic stage, so they haven’t developed dementia yet,” Savoia said. “By removing the amyloid plaque before they have developed dementia, we’re hoping it slows down the process.”

Savoia notes that no safety concerns have been seen so far in trials that have tested the treatment in people without Down syndrome and the success of this clinical trial will help bring researchers one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s for everyone.

To inquire about enrolling in this trial, contact Floyd Jones, senior research coordinator at the Biggs Institute, at 210-450-3158 or

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