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Discussing Alzheimer's research on a global stage

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

In mid-January, I attended the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This unique event—popularly referred to simply as Davos—connects international leaders in the private and public sectors—from government, business, and academia—to improve the global community. Varied sessions featuring debates, presentations, informal discussions, and panels, informed participants about global perspectives on their work and drew from disciplines such as responsible business leadership, clean energy, cyberwarfare, and the future of medicine, among others.

While “economics” is part of the meeting’s name, health, science, and technology were integral to the discussions. The Davos program was exceptionally rich. A personal highlight was the attention my esteemed colleagues directed toward progress in the field of health and technology, with great interest in aging and dementia.

Presentation highlights

doctor richard hodes at davosI was invited to talk about Alzheimer’s disease. My presentation focused on “Curing Alzheimer’s: The Research Imperative.” (You can see the presentation on YouTube if you would like to take a look.) I highlighted the progress we are making and the collaborations, including internationally, that are helping to move research forward. I described how far we have come over the last century, since Alois Alzheimer’s discovery of abnormal brain proteins in the brain of his patient, in understanding the disease and why our ability to identify and track early abnormalities gives us an unprecedented opportunity to intervene.

I pointed in part to the successes of international connections, specifically the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN), where tracking Alzheimer’s biomarkers and working with special populations with high risk for developing the disease now enable us to effectively test agents that might treat or slow disease progression. I also shared the degree of hope that these advances in our understanding offer to affected individuals and their families—as well as the scientific community—worldwide.

I very much enjoyed the informal discussions at a “Health Hub” feature in which I participated as a subject matter expert while attendees could “Ask about Dementia.” This special session was rewardingly interactive. The Hub was designed as a “safe space” for conversation where people could engage individually to ask questions and join the conversation to foster solutions. It brought into stark focus how common dementia is to the human condition; its pervasiveness across regional and economic lines was very clear from the level of interest in the topic at the meeting.

Looking to the future

The sessions and particularly the Health Hub amplified—for me and for many others—the importance of innovation and collaboration to improving the lives of all of us touched by such a devastating loss of memory and cognitive function, for both patients and caregivers. Dementia continues to garner attention on a global stage, with recognition at the highest levels of government and business of the public health imperative to do all we can to stop it.

Will Davos help? Does exposure at this august forum help garner top-level interest in this devastating condition? What are your thoughts on this kind of exposure for a condition that is important to so many of our community?