The administration of US President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday it will boost funding for research into Alzheimer’s disease by $130 million, a 25 percent increase over the next two years.
Leading health officials said an extra $50 million would be made available immediately for cutting-edge Alzheimer’s research and that the fiscal year 2013 budget to be released next week would aim to boost such funding by $80 million.
An additional $26 million will also be allocated to “caregiver support, provider education, public awareness and improvements in data infrastructure,” officials said.
“We can’t wait to confront the growing threat that Alzheimer’s disease poses to American families and to our nation as a whole,” said Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“The time for bold action on the growing public health challenge posed by Alzheimer’s is right now,” she told reporters.
Some 5.1 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disorder for which there is no cure.
Due to the aging population, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States is projected to more than double by 2050.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins told reporters that important clues about Alzheimer’s have been uncovered over the past 40 years, but progress toward eliminating the disease has been difficult.
“To be honest, turning these advances into effective strategies for treatment and prevention has proven very challenging and elusive, a frustrating situation for researchers and patients alike,” he said.
“But we now have cause for greater optimism.”
Collins described recent advances in research, including an NIH-funded study on mice released last week month that showed Alzheimer’s starts in one part of the brain in the memory center and progressively moves on to infect other parts.
“It has generated a lot of excitement among those working on treatments. Why is that? It means that if we detect Alzheimer’s early we might be able to stop the disease in its tracks by applying agents that can block its spread,” he said.
“Thanks to the new infusion of funds announced today, I think Alzheimer’s research is poised for some great discoveries.”
NIH spends about $450 million a year on Alzheimer’s research at present.
The new funds will be directed toward basic and clinical research, identifying genes that raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and testing therapies in people at high risk for the disease, officials said.
Funds may also help speed new clinical trials on treatment approaches and help develop better national databases on the extent of cognitive impairment and dementia.
Last year, Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which urges a country-wide plan against the disease with the goal of preventing it and curing it by 2025.
Experts said the effort is particularly crucial in the United States, where the proportion of older people is on the rise with 9,000 people turning 65 every day, and costs associated with Alzheimer’s expected to reach three trillion dollars over the next decade.
“We’re racing against the clock to advance a solution to this crisis from both cure and care standpoints,” said Alzheimer’s Foundation of America president Eric Hall.
“Our aging population can’t wait any longer. This type of investment is critical so that it doesn’t cost the government, as well as families, more in the long run.”
Scott Turner, director of the Georgetown University Medical Center’s Memory Disorders Program, said the announcement was “encouraging” but added “this disease remains by far the most underfunded when compared to its public health impact.”
George Vradenburg, co-founder and chairman of the group USAgainstAlzheimer’s, urged lawmakers to make Alzheimer’s a priority, noting the US only spends annually about $90 per person with the disease.
“This increase in funding is a modest first step. We intend to work with Congress to mobilize the scale of resources needed to match the scale of the fiscal and health challenge of stopping Alzheimer’s in the next decade,” he said.
“We have just begun this fight against Alzheimer’s in earnest; we have a long way to go.”