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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Confronting Alzheimer’s horrors

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Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers deserve praise for launching an Alzheimer’s research program.

But it’s important that they see this only as a start. The $3 million available for research this year represents just a fraction of what is needed to combat a disease that robs individuals of their memory and dignity, and creates enormous hardship and expenses for their families.

The state had not funded Alzheimer’s research in five years, so this show of support, however modest, is important.

The legislation signed by Scott last week establishes the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program, which will award grants to research projects. An advisory board of experts appointed by the Florida surgeon general will review and approve grants through a peer-reviewed, competitive process.

This should take most of the politics out of the decisions.

The magnitude of this neurological scourge should not be underestimated — especially in Florida.

One in 40 Floridians suffers from Alzheimer’s. The state has more than 525,000 patients, roughly 10 percent of the U.S. total of 5.4 million. And the number of Florida Alzheimer’s cases is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2025.

The health care costs related to the disease are staggering. In Florida, dementia’s costs are estimated to be more than $15 billion.

A RAND Corp. study last year found dementia costs range from $157 billion to $215 billion a year — more than the costs of cancer or heart disease. Yet research has woefully lagged. As David Morgan, CEO of USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa, points out, Alzheimer’s research receives about $55 million a year in the United States. Cancer receives about $6 billion.

The disparity could be seen this year as the Legislature provided $60 million for cancer research, a smart investment. But Alzheimer’s disease is just as devastating to individuals, and their families suffer as well.

And consider the return on investment should research find a way to curtail a disease that eventually renders people helpless and in need of around-the-clock care.

Morgan believes a major breakthrough is at hand. PET scans allow physicians to identify patients at risk of the disease, believed to be caused by nerve-killing amyloid proteins. Researchers are working on drugs to stop or stall the accumulation of the proteins.

If the amyloid proteins are detected early, before the patient begins to exhibit symptoms, the disease’s effects could be minimized or even averted.

The Byrd Institute this month began participation in clinical trials on such drugs.

There is cause for optimism that this terrible disease can be prevented one day. But it is going to require continued commitment and resources.

The legislation signed by the governor is a notable accomplishment that demonstrates the state’s concern and establishes a solid structure for allocating research funds. It is a critical step — but only one step.

As Morgan says: “Alzheimer’s research is an investment that will save us from the growing astronomical costs of this disease on Florida’s families and the state’s economy.”

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