Mayo Alzheimer's expert lauds new federal initiative

National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., holds up a copy of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease as Country singer Glen Campbell, who has Alzheimer's disease, second left, stands with his wife Kim, left, and Harry Johns, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, right, at during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 15, 2012.

More than 5 million Americans are thought to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and now the federal government has set a new deadline to tackle the brain-wasting affliction. The National Alzheimer's Plan set a goal of finding new treatments, prevention and new training for doctors by 2025.

Dr. Ronald Peterson is director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and he's also chair of the advisory council that wrote the new national plan. Peterson acknowledged that the 13-year deadline may seem short for an affliction that, at least for now, has no proven treatment.

"It certainly is aggressive, and some expressed caution about that," Peterson said. "Is that realistic? If we were to put a new compound in the pipeline today that were to be effective, would we even get it out by then? But at the same time, if we don't a measure out there, a goal line so to speak, we're not going to have the effort to invigorate it as it needs to be. So I think it is aggressive, but it may very well be accomplished as well."

There also isn't much money for the program, at least initially. The federal government has committed to only $50 million for 2012. That pales in comparison to efforts to fight other major diseases in the U.S.

Peterson said the new national plan is a key step towards rectifying that inquity.

"One of the goals of the national plan was to put Alzheimer's disease on the same playing field with the other major diseases we face," Peterson said. "Cancer gets a $6 to $7 billion dollar federal research budget every year. Heart disease gets about $4 billion. HIV/AIDS gets about $3 billion, and currently, Alzheimers gets around one half billion. So the plan and the recommendations that accompany it say that this is grossly inadequate and we need to increase the funding level maybe to the $2 billion dollar a year range."

Some of the money is going for clinical trials of a new nasal spray that's intended to see if an insulin treatment can help reverse the disease. The National Insitutes of Health is also expected today to release a preliminary set of non-pharmacological treatments that cover lifestyle, intellectual and physical activity, diet and other measures that can help prevent Alzheimers.

"These may well be measures you and I can employ today and tomorrow that will have an impact on our cognative life down the road," Peterson said.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.