Neurodegenerative Diseases at a Crossroads: More Research Funding, or More Nursing Homes?

Cleveland Clinic researchers make the case for investigative urgency

Will we fight neurodegenerative diseases the way we took on HIV/AIDS — or with the limited attention we have devoted to combating malaria?

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That’s the question posed by two of Cleveland Clinic’s leading clinician-researchers in a new commentary published by U.S. News & World Report. The answer, they argue, will likely determine whether or not disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are cured or at least become manageable chronic conditions that, like HIV infection, can be lived with for many productive and high-quality years of additional life.

This is in contrast to the model of malaria, which continues to affect some 300 million people annually — killing about 1 million of them — despite being deemed “preventable, treatable and curable” by UNICEF.

“Our fear is that, despite efforts, the scientific pursuit of the causes and cures for neurodegenerative disorders is falling behind the needs of the public,” write Andre Machado, MD, PhD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute, and Serpil Erzurum, MD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, in the commentary.

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There are signs of hope, Drs. Machado and Erzurum note. They cite recent efforts by the National Institutes of Health to give Alzheimer’s research funding the same fast-track “bypass budget” status long granted to oncology and HIV/AIDS research.

But more is needed, they argue — both in the form of resources and in terms of novel research collaborations that yield the discoveries that happen “when many minds meld and when seemingly distant fields collide.”

Unless government and private entities invest heavily in that type of bold multidisciplinary cooperation today, the doctors warn, society will surely need to invest in building more and more nursing homes for growing ranks of neurodegenerative disease patients tomorrow.

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Click here for the full commentary by Drs. Machado and Erzurum on the U.S. News & World Report site. And for more on challenges posed by brain diseases in the aging U.S. population — along with innovative strategies to combat them — visit “Keeping Your Mind,” a new multimedia content offering from the Washington Post Brand Studio in partnership with Cleveland Clinic.