Alzheimer's research received a $50 million boost from the Obama administration on Tuesday in an effort to find an effective treatment for the disease by 2025. The funding increase comes on the same day a research group sought to expand the criteria for an Alzheimer's diagnosis in a report published in the journal the Archives of Neurology.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, the cause of which is not fully known. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, changes in mood and loss of judgment. It is diagnosed by the exclusion of other conditions through use of a CT or PET scan.
The National Institutes of Health devote $450 million a year to Alzheimer's research, and this newest funding brings that number to half a billion. Next week, President Obama will ask Congress to approve an additional $80 million for Alzheimer's research in 2013.
The science of Alzheimer's disease has reached a very interesting juncture, NIH Director Francis Collins told The Associated Press. We would love to be able to come up with a way of bringing forward an even larger amount of support.
Clinicians updated the criteria to diagnose with Alzheimer's in 2011 to incorporate new brain-imaging and biochemical tests, according to ABC News. The new criteria divide the diagnosis into three stages: preclinical (when no symptoms are visible), mild cognitive impairment (memory loss is present, but not enough to be debilitating), and dementia, or full-on Alzheimer's disease. John Morris, the report's author, noted that the second stage, mild cognitive impairment, should be redefined to early symptomatic Alzheimer's disease.
The newest criteria blur the lines between mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer's, and in addition to causing confusion in the patient, could cause a loss of benefits for those who have early Alzheimer's.
By applying the suggested criteria, 99.8 percent of patients currently classified as having very mild Alzheimer's and 92.7 percent of those who have mild Alzheimer's would be reclassified with mild cognitive impairment, Morris wrote.
This distinction would deny them access to clinical research and treatments, making them unable to face the disease head-on, according to ABC News. Using Morris' suggestion, 3 million more people who are currently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment would instead be diagnosed with early Alzheimer's.
This recalibration of [mild cognitive impairment] moves its focus away from the earliest stages of cognitive decline, confounds clinical trials of individuals with [mild cognitive impairment] where progression to [Alzheimer's disease] is an outcome, and complicates diagnostic decisions and research comparisons with legacy data, Morris told ABC News. He went on to say that the overlap of symptoms suggests that the distinction is arbitrary, and says that doctors treat both conditions as Alzheimer's already.
Some researchers however disagree with Morris, saying there is a great distinction between mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.
In mild cognitive impairment, the person lives by himself and manages his affairs, even if he's a little forgetful, Dr. William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association told ABC News. In late state [Alzheimer's disease], the patient is incapable of doing anything for himself and needs help doing the most basic activities.
Whatever the diagnosis, the Obama administration is taking strides to find a treatment or cure for the disease. The government is hopeful that this more recent infusion of funding will restart some stalled studies that could be promising. This is a positive step forward. It's going to take additional steps on the journey that's going to get us to the end of this, Alzheimer's Association President Harry Johns said, according to the AP.
Eric Hall, president of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, echoed that statement, telling the AP that there is no doubt that there is commitment that needs to be applauded here.