Research is helping solve the mystery of Alzheimer's disease.
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What are the primary areas of Alzheimer's research?
Scientific research about Alzheimer's can be broadly categorized into five general areas:
- Research about possible causes, which includes the identification of risk factors for Alzheimer's and the clarification of the underlying biological processes associated with the disease; major breakthrough in Alzheimer research.
- Research aimed at improving early diagnosis of Alzheimer's, including the identification of cognitive and biological "markers" (or tell-tale signs) for the disease and the use of brain-imaging techniques to identify brain changes even before symptoms are present;
- Research to develop new treatments, including medications that target the underlying biological changes (or pathology) in the brain, and non pharmacological approaches to managing behavioral symptoms;
- Research focused on prevention, which includes understanding whether certain drugs or lifestyle factors may exert a protective effect against Alzheimer's;
- Research about caregiving, including what types of educational programs are most effective and what types of support are most useful.
- Vital Research Continues as Alzheimer's Burden Grows
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What have we learned already?
Though ancient writings suggest that Alzheimer's has been around since the dawn of civilization, scientists have only begun to unravel the mysteries of the disease. The last few decades have seen an explosion in scientific knowledge, laying the foundation for medical breakthroughs that will eventually lead to a cure.
Every day that passes, scientists are learning more about what causes Alzheimer's, what happens to the brain as the disease progresses, and what can be done to help prevent it, diagnose it, care for those suffering with it, and ultimately, to cure it. Exciting new insights about disease processes, most notably regarding the role of the protein beta amyloid, have driven drug development to a frenzied pace. Today, dozens of possible new drugs are being tested and scientists are working hard to develop a safe beta amyloid vaccine that would harness the body's own immune defenses to fight Alzheimer's. These efforts raise hope that truly effective treatments - ones that target the root cause of the disease - may soon be available.
As the race to develop new Alzheimer's drugs continues, progress has also been made in improving early diagnosis and predicting who is at high risk for Alzheimer's to enable treatment early in the course of the disease. A significant research effort, spearheaded by the National Institute on Aging, is also focused on preventing Alzheimer's, rigorously testing several different interventions that early studies have suggested may be protective against the disease (for example, estrogen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins). In addition, a growing body of research is driving a better understanding of the challenges and stresses encountered by caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and the development of more effective research-based interventions to ease these burdens.
Why is it important to continue to fund research about Alzheimer's?
Today, an estimated five million* Americans and their families suffer the devastation of Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, that number is expected to climb as high as 16 million, unless something is done to delay or prevent the onset of the disease. Direct medical costs associated with Alzheimer's are now estimated to exceed $250 billion each year, a number that increases exponentially when indirect costs, such as lost productivity and wages, are included. In 50 years, these costs will be even more astronomical, potentially bankrupting the entire healthcare system.
Compare those costs to the $971 million the U.S. Congress appropriated in 2003 to the entire National Institute on Aging, only a portion of which is earmarked for Alzheimer's research. That's only a tiny fraction of the disease's annual cost.
Scientific research offers the best hope for helping those who suffer from Alzheimer's today, and for sparing future generations from this scourge. Public support for research on Alzheimer's is critical to ensure that generous government funding continues via the National Institutes of Health. As with any disease, however, government-funded research alone cannot solve all the puzzles or answer all the unresolved questions about Alzheimer's disease. Private sources of funding must fill these gaps. That is why the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation was established. Through scientific discovery comes hope for a solution to Alzheimer's.
Sources: Evans et al, The Milbank Quarterly; Brookmeyer et al, American Journal of Public Health
How can I support Alzheimer's research?
There are a number of things you can do to support Alzheimer's research to help ensure that the promise of scientific discovery is fulfilled. For example, write to your Congressional representatives to ask them to be involved in the problem of brain disorders. If you're caring for someone who has Alzheimer's, consider participating in a clinical trial for caregivers, or involving your loved one in studies that test new treatments or track the natural course of the disease. Such studies provide the answers needed to find a solution to Alzheimer's.
Contributing to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation is another way that you can help. The Fisher Center Foundation funds important research aimed at identifying the cause of Alzheimer's, ensuring optimal care of those affected, and finding a cure for this dreadful disease. In 1995, the Foundation established the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research at The Rockefeller University, the nation's largest, best-equipped and comprehensive research center devoted to Alzheimer's research. Under the direction of Nobel laureate Dr. Paul Greengard, the Fisher Center is leading the battle against Alzheimer's disease and helping find the solutions so desperately needed. Your contribution to the Fisher Foundation directly supports this effort.
To learn more about how you can support the Fisher Center Foundation's pioneering Alzheimer's research initiatives, click here.