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Goal for Alzheimer's drug by 2025 too ambitious?

SUMMARY: The National Alzheimer's Project Act requires a blueprint for curing Alzheimer's, a brain disease that causes dementia, by 2025.
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UNDERSTANDING THE DISEASE

The group Alzheimer's Disease International estimates there are now 37 million people with the disease worldwide. As the population ages, that number will increase to 66 million by 2030, and to 115 million by 2050, the group said.

Koh said organizing efforts around a single strategic plan will help speed treatment, expand patient support and improve care for patients.

Part of the problem is that scientists are just beginning to sort out which changes in the brain are linked with Alzheimer's and which are related to other forms of dementia.

On Wednesday, the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health, published final recommendations in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association that should help pathologists do a better job of characterizing these differences.

The new NIA guidelines are the first since 1997, and they differentiate between memory changes diagnosed by doctors while a patient is still living and the brain changes that pathologists can see in an autopsy.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's is the presence of so-called plaques and tangles in the brain that are used to identify the disease.

Very often -- about 30 percent of the time -- brain autopsies reveal Alzheimer's-related plaques and tangles in people who had no sign of dementia while they were living, said Dr. Creighton Phelps of the NIA's division of neuroscience.

"We are missing something," Phelps said.

INVESTMENT NEEDED

So far, U.S. investment in the search for Alzheimer's treatments has fallen short of what the nation spends on other chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, said the National Institutes of Health's budget for Alzheimer's research is a little over $450 million. "If you add in private sector money, that is close to $500 million," Thies said.

That compares to the roughly $6 billion spent by the NIH on cancer and more than $4 billion on heart disease annually, Thies said.

Thies said those investments have paid off in significant advances in treatments for both conditions, and he thinks the same could happen with Alzheimer's.

Koh said more public funding would be "tremendous," but just the act of coordinating various Alzheimer's efforts should focus research and stimulate funding from the private sector.

George Vradenburg, chairman of the advocacy group USAgainstAlzheimer's and a member of the HHS Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, had been pushing for a 2020 deadline for an Alzheimer's cure, but he called the 2025 goal a "major step forward."

"If we set a national goal of stopping this disease by 2025, I think there is no question that this administration will seek additional resources to ensure we are on a path to get that done," Vradenburg said.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/xl4L6F Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, online January 18, 2012.

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