Alzheimer's Researchers Hit the Road to Bring Attention to National Funding Crisis

Caroline Cassels

July 15, 2010

July 15, 2010 (Honolulu, Hawaii) — In a bid to draw public attention to what has been described as a chronic underinvestment in Alzheimer's disease (AD) research, 55 top US investigators will ride through 13 states relay-style, collecting signatures on a petition urging the federal government to make Alzheimer's a national priority.

Researcher Riders at ICAD 2010 Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride Launch. Photo courtesy Lucy Pemoni/Alzheimer's Association.

The brainchild of researcher Bruce Lamb, PhD, from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, the Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride was announced here at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease 2010.

"I sit on the grant review panel for the National Institutes of Health specifically reviewing grants for AD research, and just over the past 3 years the National Institute on Aging, which is the major supporter of Alzheimer's research, was funding 14.6% of all the grants that came in, and as of this year it is funding at a rate of 8%," Dr. Lamb told Medscape Medical News.

Dr. Lamb noted that he has personally witnessed the fallout of decreased funding in the closures of AD research labs and the loss of colleagues to other research areas.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, this year the total annual costs of care for people with AD will be $172 billion; these costs will rise to more than $1 trillion by 2050, with Medicare costs soaring more than 600% and Medicaid costs increasing an estimated 400%. Yet for every $25,000 the federal government spends on care for patients living with AD, it only spends $100 on AD research.

The underfunding of Alzheimer's disease research by the federal government is disgraceful and it is foolish. Ultimately they are going to get stuck with the bill...which will be in the trillions of dollars, a sum that could break the health care system.

"The underfunding of AD research by the federal government is disgraceful, and it is foolish, since ultimately they are going to get stuck with the bill because most of these patients are going to either be on Medicare or Medicaid," Bill Thies, PhD, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, told Medscape Medical News.

Last summer, while on an extended bike ride, Dr. Lamb got the idea of rallying the AD research community to participate in a cross-country cycling trip to raise awareness of the need for more funds. He approached the Alzheimer's Association for help, and the Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride was born.

The 4500-mile ride will kick off July 17 in San Francisco, California, and end September 21 on World Alzheimer's Day in Washington, DC, where the riders will present the signatures to Congress.

The 55 riders will travel through 13 states and 65 congressional districts. Before ending in the nation's capital, the Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride will cross California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Lamb said the researchers have been "training hard" and will each complete 150- to 300-mile segments.

Dr. Bruce Lamb

"Each rider has unique inspirations for participating from a professional commitment, but as well there are a number of people who have a very personal commitment due to the effects of the disease on their loved ones," said Dr. Lamb.

"We estimate the ride will be difficult with thunderstorms, deserts, hills, you name it, as we ride across the country, but we anticipate the toughest hill to climb will be Capitol Hill," he added.

The goal is to collect 50,000 signatures petitioning Congress to:

  • pass the Alzheimer's Breakthrough Act of 2009 authorizing $2 billion in research funding for AD;

  • pass the National Alzheimer's Project Act, which will create an integrated federal campaign to overcome AD; and

  • pass the Alzheimer's Detection, Diagnosis, Care and Planning Act, providing Medicare reimbursement to increase the detection and diagnosis of AD and other dementias.

"We've been told that 50,000 signatures are enough to have an impact on Capitol Hill, but we'll see. I think whether we get the Breakthrough Act passed in the next 2 months is not critical. What is critical is that we keep the pressure on to get this kind of improvement in funding," said Dr. Thies.

Americans can sign the online petition by visiting the Alzheimer Association's Web site.

Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease 2010. Presented July 12, 2010.

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