John Thorndike | The Last of His Mind |

Sandra Day O’Connor and Research Budgets

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Interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York Times yesterday by Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court Justice who retired to look after her husband, plus Stanley Prusiner, the director an institute of neurodegenereative diseases, and Ken Dychtwald, a psychologist and gerontologist.

The usual stats were called up about the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, the effect on the baby boomers, and the increasing financial burden this will impose on the country. But this stood out: “As things stand today, for each penny the National Institutes of Health spends on Alzheimer’s research, we spend more than $3.50 on caring for people with the condition.”

As the authors point out, “Experience has taught us that we cannot avoid Alzheimer’s disease by having regular medical checkups, by being involved in nourishing relationships or by going to the gym or filling in crossword puzzles. Ronald Reagan suffered the ravages of this disease for a decade despite the support of his loving family, the extraordinary stimulation of his work, his access to the best medical care and his high level of physical fitness. What’s needed are new medicines that attack the causes of the disease directly.”

Medical researchers have been working on dementia medications for decades, but few have been approved, and so far, “these can only slightly and temporarily modify symptoms like forgetfulness, disorientation and confusion. None actually slows the underlying neurodegeneration.”

Whereas the The National Institutes of Health spent over $10 billion on developing
AIDS medications—and still spends $3 billion a year on AIDS research—““Alzheimer’s, with five times as many victims, receives a mere $469 million.”

The authors are more sanguine than I, but I hope they’re right when they affirm that “Medical science has the capacity to relegate Alzheimer’s to the list of formerly intractable diseases like typhoid, polio and many childhood cancers. But unless we get to work now, any breakthrough will come too late to benefit the baby boomers.”

Hey, that’s me.

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