Putting Brain Power Behind Brain Disease

Putting Brain Power Behind Brain Disease

A new partnership between the New York Academy of Sciences and One Mind for Research aims to hasten the translation of Alzheimer's disease and dementia research.

In the scientific community, the past 50 years have brought about a bounty of basic science discoveries, and with it, much excitement about potential applications for this knowledge. In the medical community, by contrast, the past 50 years have been marked by an upswing in chronic, disabling disease, and much anxiety about both the resulting human toll and related costs.

Despite a proliferation of groundbreaking life sciences research, the rate of therapeutic development has not matched the rate at which disease is afflicting the U.S. population, particularly in the realm of neurological and psychiatric disorders. For example, while the annual cost burden of Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. is $170 billion, only five drugs are approved to treat it, and none effectively modify or treat the underlying cause. Consider that four million people currently suffer from Alzheimer's disease, with that number projected to grow to 14 million by 2050. How will our already struggling health care system fare under this staggering burden?

The simplified answer to this conundrum is to accelerate life sciences research and development to more quickly turn basic science discoveries into clinical therapeutics. The question of how to go about such a task is, however, not so simple. Timely translation is countered by a perfect storm of challenges: lack of pre-competitive collaboration among basic scientists, physicians, industry scientists, and government; little consensus on best practices in translational science; inadequate representation of certain patient populations in current drug development efforts; and a shortage of scientists trained to meet the challenges of translational science.

It will take strong intra- and inter-institutional partnerships to overcome these barriers and to bring about the changes necessary to effect real translational science progress. To this end, the Academy recently announced the creation of its Translational Science Initiative, strategically designed to support the translation of scientific discovery from the laboratory to patient care applications by bringing together stakeholders in research and medicine, regardless of institution, region, or discipline. The initiative will be scalable to a variety of scientific fields and disease states, with the goal of adding new modules on a continual basis.

For its launch, the Academy's Translational Science Initiative has partnered with One Mind for Research, a coalition of research scientists, universities, government agencies, industry, and advocacy groups dedicated to improving the health and functioning of the 100 million Americans who suffer with a disorder of the brain or central nervous system. This partnership represents the creation of a powerhouse of participants, ideas, infrastructure, and resources, all directed toward the goal of accelerating progress in the development of disease-modifying therapies for the most devastating and costly diseases, starting with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Through a variety of methods—conferences and workshops, public advocacy events, academic and lay publications, policy whitepapers, entrepreneurship training, career mentoring, and working groups designed to form new pre-competitive partnerships—the Academy will develop a robust network that links individuals across disciplines and sectors to foster a culture of communication, collaboration, and coordination in the area of neurological disease.

The Academy, together with One Mind for Research, will use each organization's strengths to develop and implement an agenda that tackles regulatory issues, advances basic science, and accelerates the development of improved diagnostics, preventative measures, and disease-modifying therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The need could not be clearer: based on mortality data from 2000 to 2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases while deaths from Alzheimer's disease have risen 66% during the same period. It's time to put good science, and strong organizations, to work to reverse alarming trends in neurological disease.

Brooke Grindlinger and Sonya Dougal are the director of scientific programs and senior program manager of life sciences, respectively, at the New York Academy of Sciences.