Memantine as a potential treatment for Down syndrome


The Alana Foundation and the Brazilian Federation of Down Syndrome Associations (FBASD) held a webinar on April 29 to present research on the use of memantine, a drug recommended for the treatment of individuals with Alzheimer’s, as a potential treatment to improve cognition of people with Down syndrome or trisomy 21 (T21).

Funded by the Alana Foundation, with support from the Awakening Angels Foundation (USA), and in partnership with institutions in the United States and Brazil, the study was published in January 2022 in The Lancet Neurology, the world’s number one medical journal in the area of neurology. The results indicate that the use of memantine may be a future treatment option for people with Down syndrome.

The meeting “Study of memantine in trisomy 21: results and future implications” brought together researchers Alberto Costa, physician, neuroscientist and director of clinical research at the International Association for Research in T21 – Trisomy 21 Research Society (T21RS), and Ana Claudia Brandão, pediatrician at the Center for Pediatric Specialties at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, who led the research in the United States and Brazil. The conversation was mediated by Alex Duarte, a specialist in Clinical and Institutional Psychopedagogy, and Fernanda Machado, a graphic designer with Down syndrome who participated in Expedition 21 – First Empowerment Immersion for people with intellectual disabilities.

The researchers presented, in a simple and accessible way, the objectives and developments of this research as a result of an effort to promote the health of people with Down syndrome. Watch (in Portuguese):

Despite not having demonstrated the expected effectiveness on the cognitive performance of people with Down syndrome, the research raised the possibility that they may metabolize drugs, such as memantine, in an unusual way. The study also raises the hypothesis that treatments with higher dosages may benefit these people. This discovery opens the door to new debates about treatments capable of improving the cognitive deficits associated with T21.

People with Down syndrome develop the earliest form of Alzheimer’s disease, points out Alberto Costa: “This pathology is practically universal at the age of 40 for these people”. Ana Claudia Brandão comments that the study intends to create more tools so they can expand their memory, and consequently, their performance and their role in schools, in the job market and in society. “We aim to improve their quality of life, associated with health, work, well-being, a sense of belonging and security, and the quality of the environment.”

And why research on memantine? “There are already several pre-clinical studies using memantine that show encouraging and positive results and that made us plan clinical studies, which involve human beings. Memantine is also already used with proven safety and efficacy in Brazil, the United States and Europe in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. In our country, it is available in pharmacies and in the Unified Health System, the SUS, that is to say, it is an affordable medication for the population”, completes the researcher.

Further studies are still needed to assess whether treatments with higher doses can benefit people with Down syndrome, as this will make it possible to be certain that memantine will have an impact on the quality of life of these people.

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