Prusiner NYT Op-Ed Calls for Alzheimer's Research Funds

By Jennifer O'Brien

UCSF Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, MD, and colleagues have called for Congress to more than quadruple annual federal funding for Alzheimer’s research, saying that with a dedicated effort, there is a chance for a breakthrough against the disease by 2020. The New York Times ran an Oct. 27 opinion piece on the subject, penned by Prusiner, along with retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and gerontologist/psychologist Ken Dychtwald, PhD. Prusiner is a UCSF professor of neurology and director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The National Institutes of Health currently grants $450 million annually for Alzheimer’s research, about one fifteenth of that devoted to cancer research. Meanwhile, for every penny spent by the NIH on research, the United States spends $3.50 caring for people with Alzheimer’s, according to the opinion piece. The authors urged Congress to pass legislation currently before it that would raise the annual NIH investment to $2 billion and require that the President designate an official whose sole job would be to develop and execute a strategy against Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is expected to affect 13.5 million Americans by 2050. There currently are no treatments that slow the underlying neurodegeneration. To develop effective drugs, the authors wrote, scientists need to determine how the aberrant proteins associated with the disease develop in the brain, identify drug targets, and learn how to move drugs from the blood into the brain.

“Experience has taught us that we cannot avoid Alzheimer’s disease by having regular medical checkups, by being involved in nourishing relationships or by going to the gym or filling in crossword puzzles. Ronald Reagan suffered the ravages of this disease for a decade despite the support of his loving family, the extraordinary stimulation of his work, his access to the best medical care and his high level of physical fitness. What’s needed are new medicines that attack the causes of the disease directly.”

“With a well-designed and adequately financed national strategic plan,” they wrote, a major advance is possible in a decade.

Follow UCSF on Twitter