No funding, no cure

A chronic lack of research funding is the biggest obstacle preventing scientists from discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Above: Baroness Susan Greenfield speaks at an Alzheimer’s Australia event at NSW Parliament House this week.

By Yasmin Noone

Australian researchers will have little chance of ever discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s disease if the nation’s third biggest killer continues to be the poor cousin of cancer and heart disease, and if government funding continues to fall short of what is needed, a leading neuroscientist has warned.

The Oxford University scientist, House of Lords crossbencher and broadcaster – Baroness Susan Greenfield – addressed a crowd of over 200 people in Sydney yesterday, detailing the latest in international Alzheimer’s disease research.

Baroness Greenfield said that a treatment could be around the corner. But, without more funding dollars for Alzheimer’s disease research, a possible discovery date will be pushed even further back.

“It’s hard to say how long it will take [to find a cure],” Baroness Greenfield said. “In my case, we have a theory, a goal and we know what needs to be done. It’s a question of just getting the real world to comply [with funding].

“…Even if I am wrong about the Alzheimer’s disease marker [my team found], there would be other candidate markers and other people with different ideas about the cause of the disease.

“More research money for would enable people to go up and down their cul-de-sacs and zig zag forwards in a way that they can’t at the moment because they are too constrained.”

The Baroness, who is in Australia on a speaking tour for Alzheimer’s Australia, said that dementia research currently receives around $20 million a year – a little more than four per cent of the total amount spent on research for all chronic diseases – even though it is already the third leading cause of death in Australia. By 2060, spending on dementia is also set to outstrip that of any other health condition in Australia.

“In comparison, cancer research receives $144 million annually while $97 million per annum is spent on researching cardiovascular disease,” she said.

“The situation is similar in the UK where dementia receives only about five per cent of total research funding compared with the 70 per cent that cancer research receives.”

Currently, there are approximately 1,500 new cases of dementia in Australia each week. This is expected to rise dramatically as the population ages.

Professor of Ageing and Mental Health at the University of NSW, Henry Brodaty (who also spoke at the Alzheimer’s Australia event) estimated that by 2050, one person will be diagnosed with dementia, somewhere in the word, every seven seconds.

He said that this dramatic increase in numbers will also carry with it an international burden of over $600 billion (in health and care costs). “That would be the world’s biggest company if it was a business,” Professor Brodaty said.

Baroness Greenfield said the case for more research dollars is therefore quite self-evident. But, without a change in social attitudes about the disease, more funding could be out of the question.

“There’s a sort of stigma attached to anything to do with the brain that makes people feel slightly embarrassed about Alzheimer’s disease,” Baronness Greenfield said.

“There is also sheer fear associated with the disease as when you get it,  you are not the person you use to be. That is such a horrible prospect that people would rather bury their head in the sand and avoid it.

“…Until we talk about [issues relating to Alzheimer’s disease], we will never be on the radar of politicians, which means they will never provide money for it.”

The baroness called upon the sector, the media and the community at large to lobby the government for awareness campaigns and research dollars.

“It won’t happen automatically….The more people that talk about the issue, the quicker it becomes an issue. And it’s only when you lobby politicians that they will do something.

“The agenda of politicians is to stay in power. They stay in power because they give the people what they perceive the people want – because the people vote them into power.

“So it’s really for the media to work with the people to put these issues out as stories and get people talking about it. If people talk about it, they lobby the politicians and this changes a politician’s agenda.”

“The more the issue raises awareness, the better.”

Baroness Greenfield’s message to Australian governments was to act and act now.

She encouraged politicians to put themselves in the shoes of someone in dementia and imagine what it would be like if they were to develop the disease in later years. After all, Alzheimer’s does not discriminate.

“Don’t you want to live life to the full and have an exciting old age, rather than one where you are, in effect, like a little child again, receiving the care that you give to little kids?”

“…Let’s think of the negative- if [you] don’t fund Alzheimer’s disease research, the next generation will be facing an untenable situation.”

Tags: alzeheimers-australia, alzheimers-disease, baroness-susan-greenfield,

3 thoughts on “No funding, no cure

  1. I have been following the advice of Mary Newport in the battle to contain Alzheimer’s and have had great success, along with many others listed on her site, mainly in the US. Her low carbohydrate diet does seem to work. It has something to do with digestion of the carbs turning into sugar which overloads the brain with insulin. I have substituted other foods for bread and white rice etc.

    You can search on her name to find her many websites in which she details her methods. Dr Veech is a specialist with whom she she works.

    My brain fog appears to be lift since I followed her advice iin the last two or three weeks

  2. PS There are lists of low carbohydrare fruit and vegetables on the internet.

  3. I would like to see more money being provided to clinicians/scientists/nurses etc to learn how to become good researchers and then we can have more soldiers in the battle to fight towards a cure for this terrible thing called dementia.
    The skills needed to become a quality researcher and transfer the evidence into practice are hard to obtain and not to mention expensive.
    More money for research and more money for grooming the researchers.

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