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Preparing for a possible future: Advancing research into Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Richard Hodes
Richard J. HODES,
Office of the Director (OD)

Our National Advisory Council on Aging meeting last month proved to be very exciting. We have received increased public interest, together with additional funding in recent years, to accelerate progress against Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. These funds have allowed us to stretch our minds and extend our focus while all the time keeping our eyes on the goal of reducing the burden of Alzheimer’s disease. This expanded focus has blossomed into numerous concepts for new initiatives that came before the Council to review. Their enormous accomplishment at this meeting was to approve 26 concept proposals for funding opportunities.

I want to thank the Council members for their sustained efforts to provide helpful advice to staff as we now contemplate turning these concepts into initiatives. I also want to tell you a little about these concepts. While they are not yet finalized as funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), they do represent directions where we hope that research can lead us toward better methods of prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, along with improved care options for patients and their families.

Some important questions and answers

Why expand the scope of our efforts? First, there will never be a better opportunity than now to stretch the field. We need to build upon and translate what we’ve learned through basic research, as well as amplify our efforts to understand what works with care and services.

Why announce this now, before we have a budget? The past few years have taught us that we need to be ready to take advantage of additional funds as they become available. While we wait for final word on our FY 2017 budget, we can establish initiatives that will position us to move the research forward quickly.

The increase in funding received over the past few years created an opportunity to expand research. As a result, we posted 10 FOAs for research on Alzheimer’s about a year ago. Most of them are still open, with future receipt dates for applications. As we noted when they were published, they cover the spectrum of aging research, addressing issues related to molecular mechanisms of AD etiology, health disparities, caregiving issues, AD epidemiology, and clinical trials for AD and age-related cognitive decline. We’ve received a number of applications in response to these FOAs, but we have the resources to support a significant number of awards through these mechanisms.

A wealth of new opportunities

We expect to have a record number of new FOAs coming out over the next few months. The FOAs that will result from these concept proposals involve every NIA division; in a number of cases, two or more divisions will be co-sponsoring an FOA. The list of concepts is available online. Please take a look and start to think about the kinds of projects or studies you might propose.

We anticipate releasing the first group of these FOAs in the next four to six weeks. Others will follow over the next two to three months. We’ll be writing about each group in this blog, as well as announcing them in other venues.

It is important to note that the applications for Alzheimer’s and related dementias FOAs have set-aside funds associated with them. And, if you have your own ideas on Alzheimer’s disease or if you consider these FOAs too limiting for the direction you are pursuing, then apply through one of the parent announcements for NIH research grants. We are retaining a higher pay line for research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias topics. Your ideas are what will move the science forward, whether you respond to the FOAs or apply independently.

While emphasizing current opportunities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research, it is important to reiterate our support of research that addresses the myriad challenges of aging. We continue to welcome applications in the broad field of aging research and to identify targeted initiatives across this spectrum of research. Still, one public message is clear. Now is the time to dig deep to find the keys to solving the riddle of Alzheimer’s disease. We look forward to hearing from you as we roll out these new opportunities for research.

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