UMass researchers block Down syndrome chromosome

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have found a way to shut down the extra chromosome that causes the developmental problems and intellectual disabilities in people with Down syndrome.

The result was accomplished only with human cells grown in laboratory dishes. The UMass team found a way to suppress the expression of that extra chromosome, raising the possibility that eventually, a similar shutdown could be engineered in people.

"We've seen studies for single gene disorders -- disorders that are caused by one single gene -- but not disorders caused by a whole extra chromosome, such as Down syndrome," Dr. Barbara O'Brien of Women & Infants Hospital told NBC 10 News.

The discovery was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Dr. Brian Skotko, co-director of the Down Syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the new study told The Boston Globe that the development wasn't "within the current realm of scientific dreaming."

"Potentially, this research can lead to further research, such as drug therapies, potentially, for Down syndrome, other gene therapies. This is why this cellular research is so exciting," O'Brien said.

NBC 10 News contributed to this report.