U.S Unveils Alzheimer's Strategy Amid Disturbing Projections

By: CNN (Posted by Kion Hudson)
By: CNN (Posted by Kion Hudson)

(CNN)-- It's an exceptional moment in the struggle to find effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease, says one expert. Why? Take a look at these disturbing Alzheimer's statistics projected for 2050:
• 11 million additional people will have the condition in the United States
• 115.4 million will have it worldwide, compared to the current figure of about 35.6 million
• $1.1 trillion will be spent in the U.S. on caregiving costs, compared with $200 billion this year.

Staring in the face of these sobering numbers, the Obama administration offered details Tuesday of how it plans to take on this mysterious disease that destroys the brain.

The new strategy supports a $7.9 million dollar study on an insulin nasal spray treatment. Separately, researchers will work on the first-ever Alzheimer's prevention trial in people with a genetic predisposition to develop the condition. The strategy also offers solutions for collaborating across federal and state agencies and for informing the public through a one-stop website, www.alzheimers.gov.

"The plan gives us a blueprint to build on our research efforts," U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday at the announcement of the government's new plan. "These actions are the cornerstone of an ambitious and aggressive agenda."

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said at the announcement that, scientifically speaking, we are in an "exceptional moment" with Alzheimer's, with more "revelations" coming out all the time.

Alzheimer's currently affects more than 5 million Americans.

Health officials detailed the new plan Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2012: Path to Treatment and Prevention. Leading Alzheimer's researchers from around the world are at the National Institutes of Health today to talk about which research should be emphasized.

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. That's in addition to the $450 million already being spent.

As of Tuesday, Obama's proposed 2013 budget allows for a $100 million increase for anti-Alzheimer's efforts, which is part of the $156 million. The other part is for 2012.

Still, 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.
Scientists know that beta-amyloid plaques in the brain are associated with Alzheimer's disease, but they are not necessarily a precursor to it. Still, MRI and PET scans can detect these plaques and, combined with mild memory problems, there's a high likelihood of developing full-blown Alzheimer's.

There's also a rare form of Alzheimer's that is genetically driven.

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.

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