Alzheimer's disease causes the gradual loss of brain cells, resulting in memory loss, disorientation and ultimately death. The areas of the brain that control memory and thinking skills are affected first, but as the disease progresses, cells die in other regions of the brain. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer's will need complete care.
Although some existing drug treatments can improve or stabilize symptoms and a great deal of research on new treatments is underway, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's.
Human and Social Costs
Alzheimer's disease affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans. It currently afflicts one in ten people over 65 and the number is growing. Studies estimate that the number of Alzheimer's cases could range from 11 to 16 million by 2050, unless new treatment options are developed.
The long-term care that is often necessary for Alzheimer's patients places a tremendous burden on our state and national health systems, as well as on patients' families. In the U.S., Alzheimer's-related health care costs top $100 billion annually, with the care of each individual patient reaching approximately $40,000 per year.
According to a 2001 study by UCSF researchers from the Institute for Health and Aging, costs for caring for California community residents with Alzheimer's disease were $22.4 billion in 2000 and are expected to increase to $42.8 billion by 2020 and $68.1 billion by 2040. Similarly, costs of caring for Alzheimer's disease patients in California institutions were $2.5 billion in 2000 and are expected to increase to $4.6 billion by 2020 and $7.4 billion by 2040.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
Recent research shows that stem cells could be used to grow new brain cells that help counter the destruction of brain tissue caused by Alzheimer's. In addition, the use of stem cells in laboratory studies could provide the key to developing other types of treatments for Alzheimer's. That's because they can be used to help scientists understand the progress of the disease at the cellular level - and also provide a new way test the effectiveness and safety of newly developed drugs before using them in clinical trials.
In fact, many scientists and patient advocates believe that stem cell technology is the best hope for finding out what causes Alzheimer's and developing stem cell or drug treatments that could alleviate the symptoms of this terrible disease.
That's why many families who have members suffering from Alzheimer's and groups concerned about this disease, such as the Alliance for Aging Research, the Congress of California Seniors and the Gray Panthers of California strongly support stem cell research - and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan recently spoke about this issue in moving words at a May 2004 benefit to support stem cell research, held just weeks before President Reagan died after a steady deterioration caused by Alzheimer's. "Science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research," said Mrs. Reagan. "I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this. We have lost so much time already. I just really can't bear to lose any more."
Partial list of sources:
The Alzheimer's Association
- http://www.alz.org/Resources/TopicIndex < - http://www.alz.org/Research/Funded/2003/03USA_SugayaIIRG.asp
"Stem cells stimulated by natural growth factor reverse damage, restore some function in adult brain."
UCI Medical Center, UC Irvine-
"UCSF Finding Advances Insight into Adult Stem Cells in Human Brain."
University of California, San Francisco.
"Transplanted Neural Stem Cells Migrate Throughout The Abnormal Brain, Reduce Disease Symptoms." ScienceDaily.com
"Stem cells reduce brain damage: May replace, protect injured tissue." Harvard University Gazette
Stem Cell Information: The official National Institutes of Health resource for stem cell research
"Costs of Caring for California's Alzheimer Patients Will Triple by 2040, Say UCSF Researchers."