Down Syndrome research at Johns Hopkins shows promise

(WJLA) - Devin Mitchell is 11-years-old and full of personality. She also has Down syndrome, which her mother Gena Mitchell learned of when Devin was born.

Mitchell says Devin's down syndrome is part of what makes her so wonderful.

“I genuinely accept who she is and I love who she is,” Mitchell says. “She's charming and smart and witty.”

Now, new research out of Johns Hopkins is making big waves in the field of Down syndrome.

A part of the brain called the cerebellum is 60 percent smaller in people with Down syndrome.

But scientists found when they injected a new compound into mice with a Down syndrome-like condition on the day of birth, their cerebellums grew to normal size in adulthood.

“It turned out the structure of the cerebellum was completely normal from one injection the day of birth so that was pretty surprising,” says Roger Reeves, Johns Hopkins Professor Department of Physiology.

What the researchers say surprised them even more was that the compound - called the Sonic Hedgehog Pathway - also improved learning and memory.

“But why we caused that something we're very intensely working on right now,” Reeves says.

Mitchell is excited by the research but isn't sure what it means for her daughter.

“I would give to my daughter anything that would give her a better quality of life,” Reeves says. “But I am very leery - and I would be scared about changing at the core of the foundation who she is.”

And the scientists say much more testing is needed before a compound like this, if deemed potentially beneficial for humans, could become available.