Though the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease is well documented, researchers recently discovered that Alzheimer’s-related deaths are vastly underreported. A study published in March concluded that annual death rates from Alzheimer’s in the United States should be increased to 500,000 from the 80,000 currently estimated by the government. This revised figure would rank Alzheimer’s as the nation’s third biggest killer.
Meanwhile, government funding for Alzheimer’s research—at nearly $600 million in 2013—is dwarfed by the federal spending for cancer ($6 billion) and heart disease ($4 billion), even though there is currently no way to predict, prevent, cure, or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s is the only disease with this negative distinction.
As the baby boom generation ages, the number of U.S. residents living with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple by 2050. Recognizing that swift action must be taken in the face of such dire projections, anonymous donors recently pledged $1 million to establish the Advanced Alzheimer’s Instrumentation Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Led by Dennis Selkoe, MD, co-director of BWH’s Center for Neurologic Diseases, this new laboratory will help Selkoe and his colleagues develop biomarkers to better identify patients at risk for or in the early stages of the disease, and then monitor their progress in clinical trials.
Over the next four years, the gift will provide the lab with cutting-edge research instruments to accelerate the program’s vital work.
Selkoe is world-renowned as the pioneer of the “amyloid hypothesis” of Alzheimer’s, which posits that abnormal build-up of a naturally occurring protein fragment called amyloid beta triggers the disease.
“Thanks to this generous contribution,” says Selkoe, “my colleagues and I will be able to forge ahead with essential biomarker research in the fight against Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.”