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Requests for Alzheimer's disease research grants up by 33 percent, as federal funding in doubt

Clarksburg, MDThe American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF), a nonprofit organization funding innovative research through its Alzheimer's Disease Research (ADR) program, today announced that the number of scientists seeking ADR research grants through its annual application process increased by 33% this year. "It's a sign of difficult times for the scientific community," said AHAF Vice President of Scientific Affairs Guy Eakin, Ph.D. "Finding government funding is tough now, and more researchers are looking to private funding sources like AHAF than ever before. But we can't meet all the need," he added.

AHAF was flooded with 332 grant proposals, involving 700 scientists at 213 organizations. This year's funding applicants collectively requested more than $83.9 milliona figure exceeding the $74 million that ADR has granted to researchers over the past 25 years.

In the U.S., the deadlock in Congress on how to handle the federal budget deficit has raised questions about the future and levels of Alzheimer's disease research funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The "Silver Tsunami" Threat of Unmet Need

The uncertainty over federal funding for Alzheimer's research takes on more urgency in the face of a huge demographic wave of people facing Alzheimer's over the next three decades. Today, 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's disease, a number expected to triple over the next 40 years. "These figures could bankrupt our health care system," said Eakin.

Now in their 80s or older, more than one in three members of the surviving World War II generation is estimated to have Alzheimer's disease. The post-war Baby Boomer generation is also confronting Alzheimer's disease directly, as caregivers for the previous generation and as patients themselves. "Boomers are reaching age 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds. At that age, one's risk of having Alzheimer's doubles every five years," noted Eakin.

Alzheimer's research is already substantially underfunded compared to other serious diseases affecting large populations. Last year Congress allocated several billion dollars each for heart disease and cancer, but only $450 million for Alzheimer's disease.

"Of the top 10 deadliest diseases in the U.S., only Alzheimer's disease has no treatment to slow or stop the disease beyond symptomatic treatments. There is currently no prevention, no remission, and no cure for Alzheimer's disease. That's all the more reason why more research is desperately needed," Eakin added.

Cuts to NIH funding, or even maintenance of funding at current inadequate levels, could prove expensive in the decades to come, given the rising costs of caring for increasing numbers of Alzheimer's patients. That price tag is an estimated $183 billion this year, and is projected to rise to a cumulative $10 trillion over the next 10 years and $20.4 trillion over the next four decades.

Guy Eakin discussed the top trends in Alzheimer's disease research in a new AHAF Question-and-Answer feature, The State of Research on Alzheimer's Disease.

For Some Scientists, It's Personal Now

"Unfortunately, more and more people are learning about Alzheimer's disease from experience, often because they know a loved one with the disease," said Eakin. Many relatives are determined to do something about the Alzheimer's crisisincluding those in the scientific community.

"My work took on a very personal nature when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease," said Gary Landreth, Ph.D., of Case Western University in Cleveland, a recipient of AHAF research grants.

Marta Cortes-Canteli, Ph.D., an AHAF grantee at Rockefeller University in New York, explained, "I decided to study Alzheimer's disease because it is a heart-breaking disorder, not only for patients but also their families. I know this from personal experience since my paternal grandfather died with Alzheimer's disease."

Honoring Veterans on 11/11, and Caring for Those with Alzheimer's Disease

"Alzheimer's can strike a wide range of ages, but for most of us, our window of greatest risk begins around age 65 and increases for the remainder of our lives," noted Eakin. This means the Alzheimer's epidemic is reaching growing numbers of Vietnam veterans, in addition to the older veterans of World War II and Korea.

The younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may be facing a new risk for the disorder. Thanks to modern medicine, a number of these vets have survived head trauma that would have been fatal in previous eras. New evidence suggests that some of these veterans' injuries may also put them at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease in the future. "It's clear that traumatic brain injury is an important and sorely understudied topic with very clear implications from the sports arena to the battlefield," said Eakin.

Veterans Gonzalo Garza and Frank Fuerst served in the military and later provided caregiving for spouses with Alzheimer's disease. Each wrote a book to share his experiences with others, and both tell their story on the AHAF website.


Contact: Alice Kirkman
AHAF-American Health Assistance Foundation

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