Medical Discovery NewsBridging the World of Medical Discovery and You

Recent Episodes

Down Syndrome in the Middle Ages


Recently, a small group of people has been making history. An American student with Down syndrome is the first to graduate with honors in education. In Spain another Down syndrome person became the first elected councilwoman.

A hundred years ago, this wasn't possible since people with the chromosomal disorder were often ostracized. For as long as humans have lived on earth, the belief is there have been people born with Downs.

The oldest confirmed case though comes from France through the discovery of a child skeleton. The child died fifteen hundred years ago during the Early Middle Ages. What's interesting is that the way she was buried suggests she had not been stigmatized in life. For centuries, people with Down syndrome have been part of art and literature.

Only in the late nineteenth century did an English physician, John Langdon Down, publish the first accurate description. But we'd have to wait until the 1970s for scientists to discover a person with Down syndrome was born with three rather than two copies of chromosome 21. You've also probably heard it called Trisomy 21.

The discovery of the child's skeleton with Down syndrome was in a fifth and sixth century necropolis by a church in eastern France. Ninety-four skeletons were unearthed along with the child who was five to seven years old. The skull was short and broad with a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones which are all features of Down syndrome. The child was buried on its back with the head in a westerly direction common to all those buried there. Archeologists theorize since the child was treated the same as others in the community in death that she was unlikely stigmatized when she was alive. We'll need further proof but it's a positive sign.

More Information

Ancient Down syndrome: An osteological case from Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, northeastern France, from the 5'6th century AD

Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome History
"Down syndrome or Down's syndrome is a congenital condition caused by the presence of an additional copy of chromosome 21 in a person's cells. This is also referred to as trisomy 21."


Medicine is constantly advancing – that is a great thing about life in the 21st century. But it doesn’t just happen. Dedicated biomedical scientists are making discoveries that translate into those new medical advances.

Biomedical science is broad, encompassing everything from social science to microbiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, to structural biology and bioinformatics to name just a few areas. And, it can involve basic fundamental biology, the use of AI and chemistry to clinical studies that evaluate new medicines in patients.

No matter the research focus, the goal is always the same, to advance human health. It may take a few months, a few years or for fundamental science, a few decades. Few people make the connection that biomedical science is medicine and that biomedical scientists are working today on the medicine of tomorrow. Our weekly 500-word newspaper columns and 2-minute radio shows and podcasts provide insights into a broad range of biomedical science topics.

Medical Discovery News is dedicated to explaining discoveries in biomedical research and their promise for the future of medicine.


Alternatively, you can copy and paste the following web address (URL) into iTunes as a new subscription:

You can also search and subscribe to "Medical Discovery News" in the podcast section of iTunes.

See all podcasts and radio stations

The web site and Medical Discovery News radio program (Program) are made possible by The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB)as a community service and are intended to advance UTMB's mission of providing scholarly teaching, innovative scientific investigation, and state-of-the-art patient care in a learning environment to better the health of society and its commitment to the discovery of new innovative biomedical and health services knowledge leading to increasingly effective and accessible health care for the citizens of Texas.

All information provided on the web site and in the Program is for informational purposes only and is not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as a substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Any information obtained by participating as a web site visitor or program listener is not intended to and should not be considered to constitute medical advice.

Thoughts and opinions expressed on the Program or on the website are those of the authors or guests and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UTMB. The provision of links to other websites is not to be construed as written or implied sponsorship or endorsement of such websites by UTMB.

Please contact Dr. David Niesel or Dr. Norbert Herzog via email with any concerns, suggestions or comments.

All rights are reserved to information provided on the website or other information sources. No part of these programs can be reproduced stored in a retrieval system or transcribed in any form or by any means for personal or financial gained without the express written permission of Drs. Niesel and Dr. Herzog.