Down syndrome (DS) is the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability, the most common autosomal trisomy, and one of the most visible and universally recognized genetic syndromes. Each year there are approximately 5300 babies born in the United States with Down syndrome. Within the past 25 years, the average lifespan for a person with Down syndrome has doubled, from 30 to 60 years. Despite this increase in lifespan, individuals with Down syndrome and their families face significant and changing health challenges with age, and they have often been excluded from participation in research that could improve their health outcomes and quality of life. While all people with Down syndrome are connected by the common feature of a complete or partial copy of chromosome 21 (trisomy 21), there are significant physical and cognitive differences among them, indicating that inter-individual variability exists.
Down syndrome is associated with an increased prevalence of autism and epilepsy. About 75% of individuals experience cognitive decline in a syndrome that resembles Alzheimer’s disease but has its onset a decade or two earlier than typical Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with Down syndrome also have high rates of hearing loss, eye abnormalities, congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, pulmonary hypertension, gastrointestinal malformations, thyroid disease, leukemia, and other autoimmune or immune dysregulation disorders including celiac disease. However, people with Down syndrome infrequently develop solid tumors such as breast or prostate cancer, and despite multiple risk factors for coronary artery disease and high rates of obesity, sleep apnea, and type 1 diabetes, they rarely develop atherosclerosis or have myocardial infarctions. Understanding this unique combination of risk and resiliencies will inform medical advances for individuals with Down syndrome, and for individuals who do not have Down syndrome but share these co-occurring conditions.
This FOA is one of several trans-NIH research initiatives created in response to Fiscal Year 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Reports, which encourage NIH to expand its current efforts on Down syndrome and common co-occurring conditions also seen in the general population, while increasing the pipeline of Down syndrome investigators. Together, the initiatives are called the INCLUDE Project (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE). Information about projects that were funded in prior years, as well as the NIH INCLUDE Down Syndrome Research Plan, are available on the INCLUDE Project website at https://www.nih.gov/include-project/.