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Certainties and uncertainties about Alzheimer's funding

Dr. Robin Barr
Robin BARR,
Director, DEA,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)
.

I visited Cleveland over Thanksgiving. In a moment of peace from family conversations, I picked up the local paper. The first story I encountered was a long report on the Health and Retirement Study findings, funded by NIA, showing a substantial decline in U.S. dementia rates in the last 20 years. The gist of the story is that we have made great progress in reducing dementia rates and shifting them to older ages, but we're not exactly sure why we made that progress! Then, I encountered a story reporting Eli Lilly's clinical trial results on solanezumab. It was yet another failure to affect the progress of Alzheimer's symptoms.

My immediate conclusion was that, no matter where I go, my job follows me! (Well, not really, but I did have some additional conclusions.) First, I concluded that Alzheimer's disease is of huge public interest. Second, we have a mysterious finding of progress that we need to understand. Third, we have no magic bullet yet to treat this disease , and, last, clearly it is more important than ever to think broadly about new targets and treatments for the disease.

A wealth of new opportunities for research

And here we are in the middle of a mighty push to find ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. Through our funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), we are asking you to broaden the targets; to reach for solutions as to why patterns of dementia onset are changing in this country; to understand the disease in the context of aging; to trace the disparities in disease burden and find ways to reduce them. Above all, we're asking you to use your imagination, creativity, and scientific training to wrestle this disease into submission.

Yet, we are still waiting for our budget. The hoped for additional funds in FY2017 for Alzheimer's research remain more promise than reality. The budget remains at this juncture mired in a continuing resolution.

Even so, we remain optimistic. As we announced in October, we have now published 17 new program announcements and requests for applications that anticipate these funds. Their submission deadlines grow nearer with every tick of the clock. What is a poor researcher to do?

Apply now

I worried that my cup of metaphors had run dry, but then I remembered a slide that some of you have probably seen me use from time to time:

  • The chances of funding are uncertain.
  • Not true.
  • They are uncertain only if you apply.
  • If you do not apply, you will certainly not be funded.

I urge you to make your chances of funding uncertain by applying! The full list of published Alzheimer's FOAs is now on our site. We anticipate several new FOAs coming soon, especially for training opportunities and opportunities for small businesses. In FY14, NIA received an increase of $100 million targeted for AD/ADRD research, in FY15 an increase of $25 million, and last year, in FY16, NIA received an increase of $350 million targeted for AD/RD research. These funds allowed us to support outstanding research proposals in those years, and also resulted in an increase in the NIA base budget and funds available for new proposals this year. That means we can still pay some projects from these FOAs without a further increase in budget. Of course, that will happen only if you write these stellar applications! Start writing now!

Please do comment on this post. Perhaps you follow the "show me the money" school of thought and think it's better to wait until the budget appears?  Perhaps you consider this push untimely, given absence of more advanced infrastructure that would truly facilitate progress? Perhaps you believe that a broader initiative around aging would accomplish more public good, and may still yield progress against the disease? Then, again, apply!

Whatever your thoughts, we welcome your comments—and your response to the FOAs for Alzheimer's disease.