Cary’s Anna’s Angels Advances Down Syndrome Research, Changes Lives

For Anna’s Angels Gala attendees, it may be an enjoyable evening of dinner and dancing, but for those living with Down syndrome, it is a window to an easier life with the possibility of fewer complications from the condition. For the past seven years, the Anna’s Angels Gala has helped raise funds for research studies through Duke University Medical Center and its Down syndrome research team.

To date, the foundation has raised $650,000, including $96,000 raised during last year’s gala. Last year’s fundraiser helped power three Duke research studies related to their work with Down syndrome — advancement of the Biobank, a study researching the link between obesity and Down syndrome and a study of a life-saving cardiac surgery often performed on infants with Down syndrome.

Duke’s Biobank, which is currently in use, is designed to help researchers by providing a resource for biological samples, like tissue or blood samples, for their research. Anna’s Angels Co-Founder Michelle Pfeiffer felt advancement of the Biobank would likely benefit Down syndrome research for years to come.

“Say a researcher starts a study. They have to go out and first find the people for the study, which often takes an enormous amount of time and money. With the Biobank, they can just request the samples,” said Pfeiffer. “That’s why the Biobank has been huge in building an infrastructure for Down research. It will not only help us today, but down the road.”

Pfeiffer said that each study is chosen through a collaborative effort between her and the researchers at Duke.

“Clearly, I had the passion to go out and raise funds, and clearly, they had the expertise,” she said. “I’m very vocal about my opinions on what’s important. Duke has a team that looks at the grants and tells me if it’s feasible. It is very much a team collaboration and all our voices are heard, but I like to keep a hand on the pulse to know we are going in the right direction.”

The two additional studies funded this year through Anna’s Angels were to aid in research for issues that commonly affect those with Down syndrome. A study on the link between obesity and Down syndrome is being conducted through a joint effort of the Down syndrome team and endocrinologists at Duke. Pfeiffer said having the two units work together was an exciting part of the grant.

“The reason it’s so important is that so many adults with Down syndrome, as they get older, continue to put on weight,” said Pfeiffer. “We’re not sure, in the Down syndrome world, why that happens, so we have to look at their physical makeup.”

The other study will aid in the advancement of a cardiac surgery to correct a congenital heart defect that is common in individuals with Down syndrome.

“Approximately 50 percent of Down Syndrome babies are born with the congenital heart defect that was behind this study to look at the surgery further,” she said. “For these babies, the surgery is required before they’re a year old.”

Pfeiffer hopes this year’s event will raise $100,000, topping last year’s $96,000 raised.

“We’re so fortunate to have a tremendously supportive local following that has helped us over the years sustain funding,” said Pfeiffer. “Duke has really stepped up to the plate not only putting our funds to use, but they add their funds as well. I see only brighter things in the future.”

The Eighth Annual Anna’s Angels Gala will be held March 12, 2011, at Prestonwood Country Club. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

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