In Summary

An ingredient used for decades in cough syrup, and to treat a variety of conditions, could hold the key to improving memory, language and learning in people with Down syndrome. 

In an Australia-wide multi-centre clinical trial, the COMPOSE Study is the first of its kind targeting cognitive impairment in people with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that affects six million people worldwide. It is the most common chromosome disorder that is characterised by some level of intellectual disability.

Researchers at Swinburne University of Technology are taking part in this study to see whether it safely improves memory, language and learning in people with Down syndrome.

Principle Investigator Professor Con Stough from Swinburne said the compound used in cough syrup, called BTD-001, could lead to the development of a product that might improve the quality of life for people with Down syndrome.

“We are now in a phase which will determine if significantly larger studies should begin throughout the world. If successful this drug could be of great assistance to people with Down syndrome,” Professor Stough said.

BTD-001 works on the connections in the brain signalling system that manages information processing for memory and learning.

Studies have shown BTD-001 interacts with specific receptors in the brain and can activate non-performing connections, turning them on like red to green traffic lights.

“Even small changes to the way people with Down syndrome process information could have large benefits to their capacity to learn and therefore to their quality of life,” Professor Stough said.

Josh Haigh, 19, who is participating in this study, is fairly independent but his father Roy Haigh wants more for his son.

“Josh will get his own lunch and catch the bus in to town (Geelong), which is fantastic, but his reading and writing is poor and he can’t tell the time.

“We have strategies to deal with this but it would be amazing for him to feel more independent, to take it that one step further,” Mr Haigh said.

Initial research has been conducted by Stanford University in the United States. Funds from parents of children with Down syndrome and grants from the US National Institute of Health helped get the research started.

Researchers at Swinburne are collaborating with Balance Therapeutics, a company focused on developing therapeutics to address conditions of intellectual disability.

Families interested in participating in this study, please visit

You can also contact Professor Stough on: or 03 9214 4444 (please leave a voice message).