Ky. Voices: Sequester cuts mean no funds for promising Alzheimer's research

Dr. Peter T. Nelson
Dr. Peter T. Nelson

We are writing as researchers and physicians to urge people to oppose the so-called "budget sequester" due to occur starting March 1, and we provide a specific reason of direct relevance to anyone with a family member at risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease affects over 80,000 Kentuckians and causes unquantifiable duress here and elsewhere. The financial cost of the disease is over $200 billion per year, a tab that will skyrocket past $1 trillion a year as the population ages, unless we learn how to prevent the disease.

Based on our studies in the field of Alzheimer's disease research, and capitalizing on the outstanding resources (and fantastic research volunteers) at the University of Kentucky, we wrote a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health to investigate the potential of performing a preliminary clinical trial to see if a new drug could be used to help prevent the disease.

In the process of peer review by national experts, our idea was pitted against competition that included scientific superstars at the premier academic institutions. Our therapeutic idea was scored extremely well, and under normal circumstances would receive NIH funding for the clinical trial, providing an opportunity for patients in our area to be at the very cutting edge of research to cure Alzheimer's disease.

Some have argued that federal funds should not be used for testing of potential new drugs because private interests (pharmaceutical companies) could more efficiently serve that function. But that argument doesn't hold in our case. The drug we are testing would not be assessed by the pharmaceutical industry for the simple reason that it is available generically.

This drug has an excellent safety profile, lowers both lipids and glucose levels, but is simply not a candidate for being a financial blockbuster. Thus, success depends on governmental support that could yield a relatively cheap, effective and safe therapeutic strategy, in the interests of the public good.

So, the grant has already been exhaustively evaluated and should receive funding. What could go wrong? One roadblock: the sequester, a series of mandatory federal budget cuts, enacted originally as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. It would slash budgets of many different federal programs including those of the NIH.

In fact, our particular grant funding is currently in limbo, and, if the sequester actually is allowed to occur, this would be among the many grants sacrificed. We have heard from a number of UK colleagues who are in the same boat.

We are not in this for money, only pursuing the achievable goal of creating a world where our parents and children are free of the horrifying specter of Alzheimer's disease: chasing the cure. The experts have given their verdict on our grant. Now the decision on the funding will ultimately come from our fellow citizens.

We agree with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who said, "Alzheimer's should be a totally non-partisan issue, because Alzheimer's doesn't respect Republican or Democrat, it doesn't respect liberal or conservative."

Please write to encourage your congressmen to avoid the sequester.