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Not Fade Away: Alzheimer's Research Funding Increases

Nov. 19, 2017 at midnight

Alzheimer's Disease, the wrenching, tragic and degenerative condition that robs people of their dignity and identity before taking their lives, made a powerful enemy recently. Microsoft Founder Bill Gates announced he is donating $100 million to further research into a cure for Alzheimer's, with $50 million going to the Dementia Discovery Fund and another $50M destined for startups combating the disease.

On his blog, Gates addressed why he chose to focus on Alzheimer's: "You have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing the disease if you live into your mid-80s. In the United States, it is the only cause of death in the top 10 without any meaningful treatments that becomes more prevalent each year."

Bill Thies, a Senior Scientist in Residence at the Alzheimer's Association, describes the two main challenges facing Alzheimer's research going forward. "First, we need volunteers for clinical trials. Volunteering to participate in a study is one of the greatest ways someone can help move Alzheimer's research forward. Second, we need a significant increase in federal research funding. Investing in research now will cost our nation far less than the cost of care for the rising number of Americans who will be affected by Alzheimer's in coming decades."

The numbers bear this out. "Leading independent researchers have determined it has become the nation’s most expensive disease, with costs for this year alone projected to be $259 billion. In 2016, for every $100 the U.S. government spent on Alzheimer’s research it spent $16,000 in Medicare and Medicaid costs caring for individuals living with this fatal disease." The federal government seems to recognize this imbalance. In May, Congress passed a landmark $400 million increase in Alzheimer's research funding.

As of now, there are a number of drugs that treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's, though none are capable of reversing the progress of the disease. The Alzheimer's Association sums it up like this: "A breakthrough Alzheimer's drug would treat the underlying disease and stop or delay the cell damage that eventually leads to the worsening of symptoms."

There are different, and several quite novel, directions of inquiry scientists are pursuing. Could roundworms, with the ability to sense an impending threat and undergo cellular changes in defense, represent a potential mechanism that could be harnessed by the human brain to combat Alzheimer's?

Is lectin, a protein found in potatoes and other foods, If so, could you combat this dietary risk by eating more strawberries? The Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that fisetin, a flavonol found in strawberries, mangoes, and cucumbers, could protect the brain against Alzheimer's.

There are no easy answers at this point. But given the surge in research funding, there is reason for hope.

At the fifth annual Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute Symposium, top Alzheimer's researchers gathered to discuss progress in the latest treatment protocol. "There is much more to be hopeful for," said Robert Appel, vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers. "Is it still a complicated disease?

Yes, but the tools available to us and the understandings and the way medical research is being done, hold real promise."



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