The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee met this week to discuss the economic impact of Alzheimer’s in America The event was held as a follow up discussion to a bill that was signed into law earlier this year by President Obama that included $122 million in additional Alzheimer’s funding, the largest-ever increase in federal funding for Alzheimer’s research and care programs. I was honored to attend as an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association Western Maryland Chapter.
Here are the Roses and Thorns:
The Alzheimer’s Association did an incredible job mobilizing some of the most generous hearts who fuel the grassroots Alzheimer’s movement. Over 100 purple sash-wearing advocates filled the room to convince the legislators that this epidemic is of extreme importance to all Americans.
“We are not, at the moment, limited by ideas. We are not limited by scientific opportunities. We are not limited by talent,” said Dr. Collins. “We are, unfortunately, limited by resources to be able to move this enterprise forward at the pace that it could take.”
Dr Collins gave hopeful testimony about diagnostic possibilities on the horizon, including biomarkers that may lead to early detection. He also expressed enthusiasm for the Accelerated Medicines Partnership between the NIH and ten rival pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the discovery of new Alzheimer’s drugs.
Dr. Collins reported that only 1 in 6 new ideas are ever funded for research. He said that there is a constant stream of people coming to them with promising ideas. The majority are sent away due to lack of funds.
Seth Rogen, comedian and actor, gave a moving speech about his experiences with his mother-in-law’s young onset Alzheimer’s disease. He discussed the need to get younger Americans involved in these conversations as Alzheimer’s is likely to be a part of their future. He was quite funny.
Senator Harkin did his homework! He directed some hard questions to Dr. Hodes of NIA and Dr. Hurd of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging.
There was an awkward silence as Dr. Hurd tried (unsuccessfully) to explain a misleading statistic to Senator Harkin related to the correlation between poverty and Alzheimer’s- Seth Rogen had to explain it to him.
Overall impression is that Congress is listening to America’s cry for help with the Alzheimer’s crisis, despite numerous vacant chairs on the bench. I appreciate Senator Harkin’s willingness to ask Congress to spend millions of dollars in support toward research where, hopeful optimism aside, there has been little progress.
The sum of its parts:
The roses are clearly the people in purple who lead this charge, the ones who fight the daily battle, the ones who lose sleep at night. The thorns are the government officials who don’t prioritize this epidemic, the hoops the researchers need to jump through, and coordination of testimony that felt a little like a blue ribbon dog and pony show.
I hope that the next time this subcommittee meets, Dr. Collins is able to use the words “breakthrough” and “successful” instead of “promising” and “hopeful”.
I hope that there are more senators in attendance than there are chairs to seat them.
I hope that we are talking about remission, recovery, and rebirth.
I hope that the tired gentleman sitting next to me is able to bring his wife along, and that she is “feeling better after her recent bout of Alzheimer’s”.
I hope that funnyman Seth Rogen can go back to being a “lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicating manchild” if that is what he chooses to do, although it is quite entertaining to watch him take on the stodgiest wingtips in Washington. I’d vote for him.