Research

May 16, 2016 at 4:57 pm

NQPI | A New Perspective on Down Syndrome

Dr. Tadeusz Malinski receives the Grand Gold Medal by the Society of Arts-Sciences-Letters in Paris.

Dr. Tadeusz Malinski receiving the Grand Gold Medal by the Society of Arts-Sciences-Letters in Paris.

By Amanda Biederman
NQPI editorial intern

Ohio University Chemistry & Biochemistry professor and Nanoscale & Quantum Phenomena Institute member Tadeusz Malinski’s work on cardiovascular and neuronal function attracted the attention of Ita Pluta-Plutowska, who recently gifted him $400,000 to study the molecular physiology of Down Syndrome.

Down Syndrome affects approximately 400,000 people in the United States, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. However, Malinski said the disorder is understudied and poorly funded. Patients exhibit accelerated aging and experience cognitive decline similar to that of Alzheimer’s disease. Malinski said although the two conditions have different causes, the physiological symptoms are similar to those of normal aging.

Malinski has gained worldwide recognition for his work on the dysfunctions of the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Malinski’s approach for studying Down Syndrome encompasses both systems, which will allow his team to characterize the disorder comprehensively. Previous studies have focused primarily on the brain, even though most patients tend to develop heart complications.

Malinski’s group is using a nanosensing device to track changes in molecules within a single cell. He is measuring the concentrations of three critical molecules in the brain and heart that are linked to aging: nitric oxide, superoxide and peroxynitrite. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator and an important signaling molecule. Superoxide and peroxynitrite are oxidative species that react rapidly with nitric oxide, diminishing the molecule’s concentration within the cell.

Imbalances of these molecules can trigger cell death and system deterioration. In the brain, the resulting “gaps in communication” due to neuron loss can cause cognitive decline. Malinski said this nanosensing device will allow him to visualize the mechanism in real time.

“This is the beauty of nanotechnology and nanomedicine,” Malinski said. “We can now perform (these measurements) in a very small volume, and we can look for the processes and visualize how they occur in time and space.”

Malinski’s group is currently characterizing the concentration of each molecule using a mouse model. Ultimately, he intends to develop treatments to restore system balance by maximizing the concentration of nitric oxide and minimizing the concentration of the reactive species. Malinski believes his methods will yield insight on therapeutic treatments that may improve the lives of people affected by Down Syndrome. He said early interventions are critical for the prevention of neuronal and cardiovascular decline.

“The human factor here is tremendous,” Malinski said. “These people are suffering, but so are the people who are taking care of them. You not only extend the life, but the quality of life.”

Listen to Malinski discuss “Early Diagnosis of the Cardiovascular System–the Nanomedical Evaluation of Endothelial Dysfunction” in a Cardiology Online video.

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