Sizing up Alzheimer’s disease

Despite being the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and costing the country over $100 billion a year, there remain no proven disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Progress in translating our understanding of the disease into effective therapies is limited when compared, for example, with HIV/AIDS, the causative agents of which were discovered during a similar period in history to those of AD, and for which multiple anti-viral therapies developed over two decades have transformed a fatal disease into one that is more manageable, at least in industrialized nations.

An editorial published last week in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy by two of its Editors-in-Chief, Todd Golde and Douglas Galasko, and their co-author Bruce Lamb, explores the reasons for this discrepancy, suggesting that funding could have a major part to play. Calculated based on a “per individual affected” basis, National Institutes of Health funding for HIV/AIDS is 23 times the level of that for AD. Advocacy groups have attempted to raise awareness of the societal and economic impact of AD, but this is yet to bring about a significant change in research funding. There are various possible reasons for this, including the lack of sufferers who are able to act as spokespersons, due to the debilitative symptoms experienced, and the view that AD is seen as a natural part of ageing.

This “chronic underinvestment” in AD research is likely to cost the federal government more in the long-term, since costs are expected to rise to $1 trillion by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride which took place in September last year helped to collect over 110,000 signatures, with the aim of petitioning Congress to pass the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act of 2009, which would authorise $2 billion in research funding for AD. Highlighting awareness of the disease and the potential benefit of clinical breakthroughs with respect to new AD therapies is vital in increasing the pressure for improvement in funding, and giving a voice to the millions of sufferers.

Anita Bock – Assistant Editor

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