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Experts, U.S. Senators See Transformation in Global Effort Against Alzheimer’s

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New testing and treatments have led to a transformative moment for Alzheimer’s disease, a fact that was on full display during a recent Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative meeting.

The Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative, first launched in 2021, is “working on a global scale to address disparities in Alzheimer’s research” with a research cohort numbering one million people, according to a recent op-ed from George Vradenburg, founding chairman of the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative.

The collaborative’s efforts were apparent during a recent meeting co-hosted by the scholarly journal Scientific American that took place in late February. Speakers numbered more than 100 people, including advocates, U.S. senators, scientists and other experts, who shared stories of how Alzheimer’s has affected them as well as overall progress in combating it.

In excess of six million people in the U.S. currently have Alzheimer’s, with a projected 12.7 million expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said during the event that it was the “defining disease” of the current generation of older adults.

“We must not let it define our children’s generation as well,” she said during the event.

Collins noted that since 2013, the National Institutes of Health has grown its total spend on Alzheimer’s research from $500 million “to a record high $3.7 billion last year.”

“We’re now translating that research into practice by implementing also a public health approach to the disease,” Collins said, referring to the BOLD Act, which was passed in 2018.

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She added: “We need a global approach modeled on what we’ve done with AIDS and tuberculosis, for example, and malaria. And we know that that kind of global collaborative approach helps us move forward.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was also in attendance during the event.

Early in the fight against Alzheimer’s, it was like “staring up a cliff,” said Elias Zerhouni, according to Health Policy Watch. Zerhouni is a former director at The National Institutes of Health.

But In 2024, the sector is rich with new research and collaboration in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In just the last few years, clinicians have gained new and powerful diagnostic tools they didn’t have before, such as scans that look for amyloid plaques and genetic sequencing that is less costly than before. And, for the first time, they can now also wield drugs that can potentially slow the disease’s impact and spread.

Also underway are promising efforts to build a “moonshot” for Alzheimer’s research, with initial funding from Gates Ventures and DxA, a $100 million research effort meant to speed up the study of biomarkers and diagnostic tools in the healthcare industry.

“It’s a tragedy when someone calls me and says my mom’s been diagnosed, but they’re telling me she’s too late for a clinical trial, because that took away a choice for a patient. But it also took away our chance to do research faster,” said Dr. Phyllis Ferrell, advisor on healthcare systems preparedness for the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative. “This is engineering 101. We can take these pieces apart and put them back together in a way that patients can flow through the system and people who can benefit from these innovations actually get them.”

Jeffrey Burns, Director at Kansas University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, called it a “transformative time” for Alzheimer’s research. 

“I’ve been at this for 20 years. The conversation was the same for 19 years and it’s totally changed in the last year,” he said.

Still, barriers exist to treatment and diagnosis: New drugs are expensive, and research is still moving too slowly for families of people living with the disease.

“We have innovations that are ready, but are not being used,” Phyllis said, as noted by Health Policy Watch. “[Let’s say] yes, to research, but we need to do things today. Let’s go after clinically ready innovations.”

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