Curing Alzheimer's Disease: A Research Funding Dilemma

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We're on the battlefield finally after a long period of more or less ignoring the fact that there was a war, but we are not fighting it very intelligently. So President Obama recently announced an Alzheimer's initiative and put $50 million into Alzheimer's Research, but I have to tell you that's a drop in the bucket.

That brings to total Alzheimer's funding federally up to about $600 million, comparatively, that's really small compared to the funding for diseases like AIDS which is $2.6 billion. And where you need that kind of funding to make a real difference in whether or not you're going to drive towards cure.

I think there are a number of reasons why this has been a sort of neglected disease area, one of them is that all mental illness is stigmatized in this society and you add to the fact this is a mental illness that's perceived as affecting mostly old people and we are a youth of obsessed culture.

Those two things combined to make the Alzheimer's patient an invisible person. Now you could imagine that even if that were true, the Alzheimer's care givers would be advocating vigorously for more funding for Alzheimer's research, and better support for Alzheimer's patients. But they can't do that, because caring for Alzheimer's patients is a 24/7 job and they are emotionally, physically and financially worn out by that process by the time it's all over.

So it's a combination of factors that means there is nobody out there really pushing for people that take this as seriously as they need to. We are better able to diagnose that someone might be at risk for Alzheimer's or might be in the very early stages of Alzheimer's than we were before.

That diagnosis is not yet at the stage where one would recommend it being done on a wide scale, but there are very encouraging signs that we might be able to do this for people in the very near future. We are closer to therapy in the sense that there are a number of therapeutics that are currently in clinical trials, that maybe promising and there are a number of lines and investigation into new therapies that I think look really promising.

But while all this is going on, big pharmaceutical companies are largely abandoning the central nervous system disorders sector because it's perceived as too risky, and too difficult to develop drugs. So we have the problem that just as researchers starting to get really exciting, the people who will be needed to translate that research into the clinic are largely bailing out of the sector.

There are some drugs that people can take that are supposed to improve their short term memory performance. They work for some people a little, they don't work at all for other people. Even if they do worked a largely symptomatic, the disease goes merely on. There's really nothing.

There are things that individuals can do to reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease, however. Chronic high blood pressure, hypertension is the biggest single risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. So, keeping your blood pressure low, keeping your LDL cholesterol level low, that is known to be helpful towards Alzheimer's disease.

Exercise.Exercise is pretty good for everything, it's good for this too, and mental exercise is probably good. For a long time people thought that becoming senile, becoming demented, was an inevitable process of aging, and even if it's then what's the point more, you can't do anything about it, and that's not true.

It is true that if you live to be in your late 80s you have a one in two chance of getting Alzheimer's disease, but one out of every two people won't get Alzheimer's disease. This is not destiny, Okay, this is a trend that we have seen but it's not destiny, it can be cured and it is not inevitable.