Focus on... "We Can’t Wait”: Presidential Initiative Stimulates Alzheimer’s Research

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Fighting Alzheimer’s disease is a priority not just at NIH but across the Department of Health and Human Services and elsewhere in the Federal Government. In January 2011, President Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), which called for an aggressive and coordinated national Alzheimer’s disease plan and established an Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services, consisting of some of the Nation’s foremost experts on Alzheimer’s disease. The National Plan was unveiled in May 2012.

In February 2012, the Administration announced that additional funding would be devoted to research, provider education, and public awareness. The additional $50 million for research NIH dedicated as part of this initiative was used to support:

  • Further cutting-edge research to accelerate the identification of new genetic variants influencing increased risk (risk factors) or reduced risk (protective factors) of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Research to provide new cellular models of Alzheimer’s disease to enable rapid screens of hundreds of thousands of molecules for potential as therapeutic agents.
  • Research on using of new induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell methods to obtain insights into the cellular processes of Alzheimer’s. Read more about iPS cells below.
  • Research, supported by small business grants on basic science, on the biology and genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and translational and clinical research in developing and testing therapies.
  • Other research to speed up the testing of therapies in people at the highest risk of the disease.

Two major clinical trials supported by these efforts are:

  • A $7.9 million study testing an insulin nasal spray for treating Alzheimer’s disease. In a recent pilot clinical trial, investigators found that intranasal insulin treatment improved memory, cognition, and daily functioning with no side effects in participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Now, a larger, year-long study will test the effects of intranasal insulin on cognition and function in a larger group of people with MCI or early Alzheimer’s. In addition, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and imaging biomarkers will be assessed.
  • A prevention trial in people at the highest risk for the disease. NIH has committed $16 million to this international effort, the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at extremely high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study participants are some 300 adult members of a Colombian clan with a family history of early-onset Alzheimer’s, as well as a smaller number of U.S. participants age 30 and older. This group includes both carriers and non-carriers of a genetic mutation known to cause observable signs of Alzheimer’s around age 45. The study will use brain scans, fluid biomarkers, and cognitive testing to track amyloid levels, changes in brain structure and function, and cognitive performance in participants taking an experimental drug. The trial is co-funded by the Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation and by Genentech, a biotechnology company, which is also providing the drug being tested.