In addition to research, Sebelius outlined other major goals of the plan and announced a number of actions being taken now, including training for physicians assessing patients for memory loss and a new public awareness campaign about federal and other information resources available about the disease and caregiver support. The campaign features establishment of a new federal portal web site—www.alzheimers.gov—for easier access to information on disease, diagnosis, research and clinical trials found at NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center.
The secretary stressed the urgency of ramping up research and other national efforts on the disease. “A lot more needs to be done and it needs to be done right now, because people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones and caregivers need help right now,” she said.
At the recent summit on Alzheimer’s disease, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (l) outlines major goals of the plan.
While recognizing significant scientific progress in AD research, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (r) says, “This is not about just celebrating where we’ve come from, but rolling up our sleeves to see where we can go.”
Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson
The summit, hosted by NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services, with private sector support through the Foundation for the NIH, was one of the first activities to be undertaken under the new national plan’s research goal. It brought together “representatives from academia, industry and the advocate community,” said NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes. “These are the very groups that need to work together if we’re going to most effectively approach the problem” that Alzheimer’s disease presents.
“The overall purpose of the summit was to develop new ways of thinking about treatment and prevention for Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Neil Buckholtz, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the NIA Division of Neuroscience, who led the event. “We expect recommendations that will provide us with better approaches toward finding treatments, as well as indicating the kind of infrastructure that we need to modify or develop in order to get us to better therapeutics in the future.”
Fifty-seven presenters and panelists were asked to address 6 topics critical for identifying effective therapies for treatment and prevention:
- Interdisciplinary approach to discovering and validating the next generation of therapeutic targets
- Challenges in preclinical therapy development
- Whom to treat, when to treat and what outcomes to measure
- Drug repurposing and combination therapy
- Nonpharmacological interventions
- New models of public-private partnerships.
At the end of the summit, a writing committee consisting of a subgroup of presenters and panelists formulated a series of recommendations and highlighted the major themes:
- Recognize the heterogeneity and the multifactorial nature of the disease
- Employ new research paradigms such as systems biology and network pharmacology
- Enable rapid and extensive sharing of data, disease models and biological specimens
- Build new multidisciplinary translational teams and create virtual and real spaces where teams can operate
- Develop strategies to overcome intellectual property barriers to Alzheimer’s disease drug development
- Develop new public-private partnerships
- Establish a National Institutional Review Board for Alzheimer’s disease clinical research.
The full list of recommendations can be viewed at www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/announcements/2012/05/alzheimers-disease-research-summit-offers-research-recommendations.
The summit also highlighted an announcement by Collins of two new major grant awards for clinical trials. The trials are being supported as part of an additional $50 million in fiscal 2012 funding directed from within NIH toward Alzheimer’s research.
The first trial will test whether an insulin nasal spray can improve memory, cognition and daily functioning among people with mild cognitive impairment and mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Suzanne Craft of the University of Washington and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound and her team will conduct the year-long treatment trial at multiple sites across the U.S. At the end of the year, researchers will compare cognition, memory and functional performance between the treated and control groups.
The second trial is a 5-year prevention trial focusing on people who are cognitively normal but at extremely high risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The effort is an international collaboration led by Drs. Eric Reiman and Pierre Tariot at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, working with a unique and large family in Colombia sharing a genetic mutation known to cause observable signs of Alzheimer’s disease at around age 45. Study participants will include some 300 adult members of the Colombian clan with a family history of early onset Alzheimer’s, as well as a smaller number of U.S. participants.
Brain scans, fluid biomarkers and cognitive testing will be used to track changes in brain structure and function and cognitive performance.