The national epidemic and potential world pandemic of Alzheimer’s disease was the topic of a congressional hearing Wednesday before the House global health panel chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), who also co-chairs the bipartisan congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease.
The recent international Group of 8 summit held in London in December was the focus of the congressional hearing entitled “A Report on the G8 Dementia Summit.”
“The G8 convened a Dementia Summit in London to examine and presumably harmonize the various national action plans on the growing international crisis of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia,” Smith said. “The outcome appears to indicate a coalescing around the U.S. plan to make significant headway on addressing dementia by 2025, which would have significant implications globally. We will need more than rhetoric to deal with this crisis. As more of us live longer worldwide, the threat of developing Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia grows exponentially. We cannot afford to have a robust domestic program to fight this condition and find that our international efforts are undermined by the failure of other donors to play their proper role in this effort.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening statement.
The lead witness was Dr. Richard J. Hodes, M.D.,Director, National Institute on Aging, part of National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He attended the London summit joining with other U.S. officials including NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Dr. Donald Moulds.
“A particularly promising area for the G8 to approach first involves the rapid and extensive sharing of data, disease models, and biological specimens, with appropriate consent and privacy protections,” Hodges testified. “Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder, and collaboration and sharing of data and samples on an international scale is crucial, especially in light of constrained budgets. Over the past few years, international collaboration and data sharing have resulted in unprecedented advances in identifying Alzheimer’ s disease gene risk factors. These discoveries offer new therapeutic targets for researchers world-wide. The more we encourage collaboration and the breaking down of barriers, the more we advance our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Hodges said that beginning in 2014, the G8 countries plan to hold a series of high-level “legacy events” in partnership with the World Health Organization, the European Commission, the EU Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease, and private entities, to form cross sector partnerships and innovation focused on social impact investment, new care and prevention models, and partnerships between academia and industry. The U.S. will lead one of these efforts, he said, hosting a follow-up meeting of G8 health ministers and global experts in early February 2015 as part of the next NIH-hosted Alzheimer’s Research Summit.
Also testifying were George Vradenburg, Chairman and FounderUSAgainstAlzheimer’s, and Harry Johns, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alzheimer’s Association. Click here to read the witnesses’ testimonies.
Over five million Americans suffer from the debilitating disease and some experts estimate that Alzheimer’s costs Americans over $180 billion annually. Those numbers could rise to 16 million people over $1 trillion a year by 2050. Around the world, 35 million people suffer from the incurable disease, a figure that will grow to 115 million by 2050.
“The G8’s embrace of a goal to develop a cure or disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025 – a slight variation to our own bold and time-based goal set two years ago –demonstrates that U.S. leadership is once again becoming critical to another global effort, this time against Alzheimer’s,” said Vradenburg. “The time has come for the United States to once again lead the global community against the grave threat to our health and finances, the threat posed by Alzheimer’s and dementia. What will the future look like if the world turns a blind eye to this crisis? We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis that is larger than the threat posed by HIV/AIDS. Beyond the public health challenge, we are also on the front edge of an economic and fiscal crisis. The costs of Alzheimer’s to health care and social support systems is huge and growing, already at more than 1 percent of global GDP.”
Johns told the congressional panel that Alzheimer’s disease is a global crisis.
“This crisis is placing – and will increasingly place – an enormous strain on the health care system, families, and government budgets of nations around the world. Current estimates indicate that about 36 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and when we reach the middle of the 21st century, there will be 115 million people living with dementia on this planet,” Johns said. “If dementia were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy globally. As we all live longer, dementia is spiraling out of control, holding healthcare systems ransom. This cost trajectory can only be fundamentally altered through prevention and effective treatments.”