NIH and Fast Grants Award $1M to the Crnic Institute to Study COVID-19 in People With Down Syndrome


DENVER, Sept. 25, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (Crnic Institute) have been awarded three grants totaling $1 million, two from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and one from Fast Grants, to understand how the hyper inflammatory state of the immune system in people with Down syndrome may result in more severe complications upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. Studying both people and mouse models, the aim is to develop tailored COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for individuals with Down syndrome.

Preliminary data suggests people with Down syndrome are more likely to be hospitalized and die at a younger age due to COVID-19 compared to the typical population. However, much more information is needed, and currently little is known about how COVID-19 affects individuals with Down syndrome.

"What our research has already shown is that people with Down syndrome have substantial dysregulation in their immune systems, which could impact not only their initial response to SARS-CoV-2 and their clinical outcome if they become ill with COVID-19, but also the development of potential long term side effects. Understanding each of these pieces is crucial for understanding the risks and developing proper medical care for people with Down syndrome who get COVID-19," explains Dr. Joaquín Espinosa, Executive Director of the Crnic Institute.

The NIH and Fast Grants awards build upon the following important coalescing factors:

  1. The Crnic Institute's breakthrough discovery that people with Down syndrome are affected by chronic autoinflammation. 
  2. Patients with COVID-19 who have severe symptoms or die have hyperactive inflammation similar to that observed in people with Down syndrome.
  3. A class of FDA-approved drugs called "JAK-inhibitors" (such as Olumiant, Xeljanz, and Jakafi) are being evaluated world-wide to treat patients with COVID-19, and the Crnic Institute is testing Xeljanz to treat autoimmune and hyper inflammatory skin diseases in people with Down syndrome.

More specifically, these awards will allow Crnic Institute researchers to create an unprecedented body of knowledge by aggregating information and samples from individuals with Down syndrome diagnosed with COVID-19 through its Human Trisome ProjectTM data set and the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C). In addition, Crnic Institute researchers will also test the ability of JAK inhibitors to normalize the hyper inflammatory state in a mouse model of Down syndrome.

"We are grateful to the NIH for identifying people with Down syndrome as a high risk population for COVID-19, and for acting quickly to fund research that could help save the lives of our children and adults from this terrible virus," says Michelle Sie Whitten, President and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, an internationally renowned advocacy non-profit and an affiliate of the Crnic Institute. "Global, and the people with Down syndrome we serve, are also fortunate to have our congressional champions and our Crnic Institute scientists who are both brilliant and compassionate."

About the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome
The Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome is one of the only academic research centers fully devoted to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome through advanced biomedical research, spanning from basic science to translational and clinical investigations. Founded through the generous support and partnership of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, and the University of Colorado, the Crnic Institute supports a thriving Down syndrome research program involving over 50 research teams across four campuses on the Colorado Front Range. To learn more, visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter @CrnicInstitute.

About the Global Down Syndrome Foundation
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation (GLOBAL) is the largest non-profit in the U.S. working to save lives and dramatically improve health outcomes for people with Down syndrome. GLOBAL has donated more than $32 million to establish the first Down syndrome research institute supporting over 400 scientists and over 2,000 patients with Down syndrome from 28 states and 10 countries. Working closely with Congress and the National Institutes of Health, GLOBAL is the lead advocacy organization in the U.S. for Down syndrome research and care. GLOBAL has a membership of over 150 Down syndrome organizations worldwide, and is part of a network of Affiliates – the Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, the Sie Center for Down Syndrome, and the University of Colorado Alzheimer's and Cognition Center – all on the Anschutz Medical Campus.
GLOBAL's widely-circulated medical publications include Global Medical Care Guidelines for Adults with Down SyndromePrenatal Testing and Information about Down Syndrome, and the award-winning magazine Down Syndrome WorldTM. GLOBAL organizes the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, the largest Down syndrome fundraiser in the world. Visit and follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter @GDSFoundation, Instagram @globaldownsyndrome). 

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