Will more money buy an Alzheimer's cure?

Just as scientists are announcing a breakthrough in their understanding of howAlzheimer'sspreads through the brain, robbing its sufferers of memories and cognitive functioning, the Obama administration is proposing a dramatic increase in federal funding for Alzheimer's research.

The president's budget for fiscal year 2013 is expected to request $80 million more than the $458 million currently allocated. It calls for an additional $26 million in funds to help support families and others who take on the task of caring for people with Alzheimer's. And the administration also announced that it has immediately made another $50 million available for Alzheimer's research.

The proposed increase is itself a long-sought breakthrough. Alzheimer's is a confounding disease that currently has neither cure nor preventive vaccine. There are a handful of medications that, at best, temporarily reduce symptoms, and often don't do much at all. The latest studies suggest that the protein that takes over the brain in Alzheimer's spreads like an infection from cell to cell, which offers hope for finding a way to stop the process.

Advocates and scientists have said that only a small percentage of deserving research projects dedicated to the illness were receiving National Institutes of Health funding. The decision to increase spending on research even during tough budgetary times indicates a welcome rethinking of funding priorities. The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's is aging, which of course affects every one of us. The Alzheimer's Assn. estimates that as many as 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease, and that figure is expected to double in the next 20 years as baby boomers reach their mid-60s.

Federal dollars for Alzheimer's lags well behind government funding for other diseases, such as AIDS, which afflict far fewer people but often have stronger lobbies. Scientists researching Alzheimer's still need more private funding, research and people willing to sign up for clinical trials to continue the battle to conquer this disease.

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