At the White House, in Congress and even on the presidential campaign – three places where virtually nothing is agreed upon – there is a growing call to dramatically increase federal spending on Alzheimer’s research.
Right now, Congress and the President are sending $350 million in additional funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – a 60 percent hike, pushing the total for Alzheimer’s research spending over the $950 million mark for the first time, thanks in large part to the work of the bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's disease founded by Senator Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenate Dem: Trump is attacking science Overnight Energy: Trump signs climate order | Greens vow to fight back House passes bill undoing Obama internet privacy rule MORE (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Chris Smith (R-New Jersey).
Why? The humanitarian motive is certainly there. Probably no other disease will touch so many Americans in such a heartbreaking fashion, and in such ballooning numbers, over the next decade. The prevalence of the disease, increased life spans and the aging of Baby Boomers mean millions of families will know the terrible pain of a parent or sibling who begins to forget who they are.
But what is truly driving the call for more Alzheimer’s money are two trends: We are increasingly understanding the economic disaster that caring for those with Alzheimer’s poses over the next decades, and – finally – we are seeing gains in medical research that tell us there is hope that we can slow or even stop this terrible disease.
Everyone who is paying attention knows what the toll of Alzheimer’s unchecked will be.
Alzheimer’s right now costs us more than any other disease in the nation. The current cost of caring for patients, of lost productivity for sufferers and family alike all told is approaching $230 billion a year. Annually, within 25 years, it is estimated that care for Alzheimer’s will devour roughly one quarter of Medicare and Medicaid spending.
Aside from compassion, investing in a cure for Alzheimer’s is just about the best investment this country can make, partly because the indications that we can solve or slow this disease are stronger than ever before.
Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, working with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, has sponsored groundbreaking research based in neuroscience, which has created a brand new avenue for researchers around the globe to look at the disease as it progresses and test possible interventions.
We have created ‘Alzheimer’s in a Dish’ by attaching Alzheimer’s genes to brain cells neurons in an observable lab environment. There, we can monitor the way the disease grows and affects brain tissue, and intercede and test drugs on what is progressing right in front of them in the petri dish. This has thrown open the door to laboratory testing of drug combinations in research labs internationally in the quest to see what might stop or reverse that growth.
Every single day, because Alzheimer’s in a Dish accelerates researchers’ capabilities, there is a dramatically better chance that in a lab somewhere, they will find the intervention that slows or stops this scourge.
And the spate of drug testing is not the only ray of hope. Thanks to research on the genome, we grow closer every day to learning the genetic secrets of Alzheimer’s. As importantly, research over the last several years has led us closer to understanding the relationship between a brain anti-microbial agent and the chemicals that may trigger Alzheimer’s. And research funded by organizations like Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is leading to NIH-funded breakthroughs. As we grow closer to the cause, we grow closer to the cure.
Research into finding a way to stop the progression of the disease can save this country trillions of dollars over the coming decades. And curing, or controlling, this nightmare illness is no longer a dream – and certainly not a waste of our precious medical research funds.
More than that, for millions of American – for millions of people around the globe – the money we spend now will reap even bigger savings, saving in lives of the ones we love, for generations to come.
Those are dollars well spent.
Timothy Armour is the President and CEO of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is the Vice-Chair of Neurology and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and serves as the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.