U.S. escalates war on Alzheimer’s

Posted at 12:57 PM, May 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-15 15:03:48-04

By Elizabeth Landau


(CNN) — The U.S. government is stepping up efforts to combat Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 5 million Americans and whose progression has been resistant to treatments.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius detailed the plan Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2012: Path to Treatment and Prevention. Alzheimer’s is projected to affect 16 million by 2050. “The plan gives us a blueprint to build on our research efforts,” Sebelius said at the announcement. “These actions are the cornerstone of an ambitious and aggressive agenda.”

The plan promises to find effective prevention and treatment approaches for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Leading Alzheimer’s researchers from around the world are at the National Institutes of Health today to talk about which research should be emphasized.

To help, the government has launched with website as a resource for people to find out more about the disease, caregiving and getting help.

President Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act into law in January 2011, which called for a coordinated national plan to fight Alzheimer’s. In February of 2012, the administration said it would push for a $156 million increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research over the next two years.

As of Tuesday, Obama’s proposed 2013 budget allows for a $100 million increase for anti-Alzheimer’s efforts.

Funding for Alzheimer’s research in the United States has not even approached the level of monetary support for other major diseases. Last year, the NIH spent $3 billion on research into AIDS, $4.3 billion on heart disease, and $5.8 billion for cancer, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The current thinking among Alzheimer’s experts is that early detection and intervention – even before symptoms begin – is better. Individuals with only mild memory problems may hold the most promise for testing treatments.

Some of the funding will go towards launching two major clinical trials, according to HHS. “One is a $7.9 million effort to test an insulin nasal spray for treating Alzheimer’s disease. A second study, toward which National Institutes of Health is contributing $16 million, is the first prevention trial in people at the highest risk for the disease,” said Sebelius in a press statement.

Funding is only one part of finding solutions for this debilitating disease. In practice scientists find it challenging to get a lot of participation in clinical trials. Some people don’t want to risk the possible side effects of an experimental drug; others do want to try new drugs, but fear being placed in the placebo group. And elderly people may have practical difficulties getting to the study location.