Alzheimer's Matters Blog

Then & Now: Alzheimer’s Research

May 6, 2014

Category: Understanding Dementia

Alois Alzheimer

As a medical student in the 1970s, I studied hundreds of diseases. But one never even got a mention: Alzheimer's.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a world in which Alzheimer’s—a form of dementia that plagues millions of Americans—is not a part of the public consciousness. That shift in awareness, alone, is worth applauding. In just over 35 years, we have given a voice to those suffering from this devastating disease and begun the process of finding a cure. We have also seen government funding for Alzheimer’s research jump from $675,000 in 1976 to $504 million in 2013.

The release last week of the 2014 National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease is a reminder of how far we’ve come. The plan, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is comprehensive and well thought out. It covers everything from basic research to drug discovery, caregiving infrastructure, and caregiver assistance. And it provides a critical foundation for combating the Alzheimer’s epidemic—one expected to affect 16 million Americans by 2050.

Though the plan represents real progress, it doesn't call for adequately funding Alzheimer’s drug discovery research. The $504 million spent by the National Institute of Health on Alzheimer’s research in 2013 pales in comparison to the $6 billion it spent on cancer research. And a small portion of that amount goes to drug discovery, the only kind of research that leads directly to new drugs. This despite the fact that Alzheimer’s is the only top 10 cause of death in our nation that has no prevention or treatment options.  

We are, nevertheless, at an exciting juncture in Alzheimer’s drug discovery research. Thirty years after we began studying the biology of Alzheimer’s, we are developing promising drugs based on what we have learned.  The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is playing a major role in the discovery of drugs to treat and cure Alzheimer’s, as the only philanthropy solely focused on this mission. 

Today, we have a plan. Now, it’s time to marshall our resources toward finding safe and effective drugs that can treat—and prevent—Alzheimer’s.

Howard Fillit, MD is the Founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer at the ADDF.