The idea of administering fluoxetine to treat Down syndrome started to gain currency among parents about 10 years ago after some early laboratory research on animals showed promising results. Since then, there’s been more evidence the drug could help, particularly a 2014 study, reported in the journal Brain, by Italian researcher Renata Bartesaghi. When she gave fluoxetine to mice whose pups have a rodent version of Down syndrome, the animals were born with a normal number of neurons.
Parent activists say there are at least 200 children with Down syndrome in the U.S. who are receiving fluoxetine in an attempt to boost their brainpower, and the same is happening overseas. At the end of this month, doctors at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas plan to start enrolling 21 pregnant women whose fetuses have been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Fourteen will be chosen at random to take fluoxetine and the others will get a placebo.
After birth, the children will keep taking the pills until they are two years old, and they’ll be evaluated regularly after they’re born via developmental skills assessments and MRI imaging. The study is the first organized trial of fluoxetine to treat Down syndrome and one of the few studies of any drug to treat the condition.
This is a classic example of such an emotionally charged issue that it is critical to do the highest quality controlled studies to make sure that medical care is helping, not hurting young people with Trisomy 21