National plan seeks effective Alzheimer’s treatment, focus
■ More than 5 million Americans have the disease, and that figure is expected to grow with the aging of the baby boomer population.
By Carolyne Krupa — Posted May 28, 2012
A national plan to fight Alzheimer’s aims to find ways to prevent and effectively treat the disease by 2025.
It outlines a series of initiatives to reach that goal, including increased research funding, more resources for caregivers and greater public awareness about the neurologic disorder.
For physicians and other health professionals, the Dept. of Health and Human Services wants to bolster education efforts on identifying and caring for Alzheimer’s patients, increase support for geriatric training programs and broadly disseminate guidelines on caring for dementia patients.
“A short time ago, the fight against Alzheimer’s lacked a national focus and a consistent, coordinated partnership with the nation’s Alzheimer’s community,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in announcing the plan May 15 at the Alzheimer’s Research Summit in Bethesda, Md. “Today, we’ve made an historic investment of funds, a 15-year commitment to prevention and treatment, and we’re building partnerships among government, researchers, advocates, providers and the public that will fully bring Alzheimer’s into the national conscience.”
To support the plan, President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget includes $80 million for research, $10.5 million for caregiver support, $4.2 million to improve public awareness, $4 million for education programs for physicians and other health professionals, and $1.3 million for data collection.
HHS also launched a website to serve as a one-stop shop for caregivers and others seeking information about Alzheimer’s.
“This is a national plan and not a federal plan,” the report said. “It will require the active engagement of public and private sector stakeholders to achieve.”
“A lofty goal”
Primary care physicians are a crucial part of the plan, because they can help in early detection of Alzheimer’s, said Alzheimer’s Assn. President and CEO Harry Johns. Though there are is no cure, there are treatments that help improve quality of life for some patients.
“Roughly half of the people who have the disease are undiagnosed,” Johns said. “The starting point for good care is identification and diagnosis.”
Development of the plan was mandated by the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which Obama signed into law on Jan. 4, 2011.
An estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to more than double during the next few decades with the aging of the baby boomer generation, Sebelius said.
“We’re very excited about having the first national plan for Alzheimer’s in America ever,” Johns said. “It’s a great first step toward doing what we need to do.”
The Alzheimer’s Assn. worked closely with Congress in approving the act and writing the plan. Johns serves on an advisory council on how to implement the act.
Reaching the goal of preventing and effectively treating the disease within the next 13 years will require the coordination of public and private entities, he said.
“It’s an ambitious goal, but we strongly believe that the things in this plan begin to make it possible,” Johns said.
Pierre Tariot, MD, director of the Phoenix-based Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, said it’s necessary to set challenging goals to foster progress.
“That’s a very lofty goal,” he said. “We share the passion and the sense of urgency. Our institute’s goal is to not lose another generation to Alzheimer’s.”
When HHS released a draft of the plan Jan. 9, Dr. Tariot initially was concerned that it didn’t include specific efforts about increasing funding for Alzheimer’s research. Those concerns have been addressed, he said.
“It’s very gratifying that the concerns have been heard, and they’ve been responded to quite rapidly,” Dr. Tariot added.
Two research projects are highlighted in the plan. One is a $7.9 million study to test an insulin nasal spray for treating Alzheimer’s.
The second is a clinical trial that will test an anti-amyloid antibody to see whether it will prevent Alzheimer’s in those at highest risk for developing the disease. The National Institutes of Health is contributing $16 million to the $100 million study, which involves a partnership among the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, the University of Antioquia in Colombia and Genentech, a biotechnology company.
The trial will involve about 300 individuals from Colombia who have a rare genetic mutation that predisposes them to developing Alzheimer’s and about 24 U.S. patients thought to be at risk of developing the disease.
“As soon as possible, we hope to release the raw data and specimens to the research community,” Dr. Tariot said.