Article 23.10.2020

Major research award to boost treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in adults with Down’s syndrome

A CPFT-led research group has won over $3 million to expand studies investigating biomarkers and brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease, to progress treatments for adults with Down’s syndrome who are most at risk.

Their ongoing research programme published results in The Lancet this summer, revealing that the cognitive and biochemical changes in Alzheimer’s disease start more than 20 years before clinical symptoms present in people with Down’s syndrome.

In middle age, many people with Down’s syndrome start to develop problems with memory and thinking linked with these changes. Imaging biomarkers show that a long preclinical phase follows a predictable sequence, similar to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in the general population.

The Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group (CIDDRG), led by CPFT consultant psychiatrist and researcher Dr Shahid Zaman, has been awarded $3.4 million by the National Institutes of Health in the United States (NIH-US) to continue this research.

The CIDDRG partners the UK with an international consortium of 12 specialist research centres awarded a total $106 million over five years to work towards interrupting this sequence and preventing dementia.

Shahid said: “This is wonderful news for people with Down’s syndrome and researchers and clinicians working to help them. This award and research programme will help to advance targeted and well-designed clinical trials for people with Down’s syndrome and address mortality risk from dementia for this vulnerable group. I commend the NIH for making a visionary and ambitious decision, and am honoured to be leading the expert research team in Cambridge contributing to the international effort. The data generated by this large scale research programme will boost the development of preventive treatments for dementia.”

The CIDDRG has been closely monitoring a group of participants with Down’s syndrome, who did not have a diagnosis of dementia at the start of the programme.

They have been able to track how people change from being asymptomatic to developing dementia, using measurements including memory and thinking tests and brain scans detecting the presence of abnormal protein deposits (amyloid and tau) in the brain, associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Under the NIH programme, research teams will assess and examine a wide range of data from plasma-based biomarkers to biofluids, genetic factors, neuroimaging and everyday cognitive and psychological functioning. Research participants will be seen every 16 months for up to four visits.

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This research will be funded by NIH grant U19AG068054.

The CIDDRG is part of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and works with CPFT’s Windsor Research Unit. The group is also supported in the UK by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration East of England, the NIHR Cambridge Dementia Biomedical Research Unit, the Medical Research Council, the Down Syndrome Association, and the Health Foundation.

About Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) is a health and social care organisation, providing integrated community, mental health and learning disability services, across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and children’s community services in Peterborough.

We support around 100,000 people each year and employ more than 3,700 staff. Our largest bases are at the Cavell Centre, Peterborough, and Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, but our staff are based in over 90 locations. We are a University of Cambridge Teaching Trust and member of Cambridge University Health Partners, working together with the University of Cambridge Clinical School. Together with global, national and local partners we conduct high-quality and ground-breaking research into mental and physical health and support innovation to improve patient care.

About the Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group (CIDDRG)

The Down syndrome research group with CIDDRG is led by Dr Shahid Zaman. CIDDRG aims to undertake research in the field of intellectual and other developmental disabilities that will inform the treatment and support of people with disabilities themselves and also relevant policy and practice. They conduct interdisciplinary and collaborative research and ensure that the findings are disseminated in ways that can be used to bring about change. They also support students from a variety of disciplines to undertake research in intellectual and other developmental disabilities in order to contribute to the development of relevant academic expertise for the future. Through established local, national, and international partnerships CIDDRG promotes best practice in organisations relating to intellectual and other developmental disabilities, drawing on findings from sound research and on the principles of justice and non-discrimination and the promotion of rights, independence, choice and inclusion. 

For more information please contact:

Laura Marshall

Research and Development Communications Manager


T 07932 662430