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FL institute is part of new Alzheimer’s trial

Florida  will be “deeply involved” in the national initiative to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by the year 2025, and not only because nearly half a million residents have been diagnosed with the irreversible, progressive brain disease.

The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute will be one of the sites conducting a test of an insulin nasal spray for patients with early-stage disease, one of two major clinical trials announced on Tuesday at an Alzheimer’s research summit at the National Institutes of Health. The Tampa institute is already running 18 studies on the disease, said CEO David G. Morgan.

Morgan was at NIH on Tuesday when the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease was announced. He believes the stated goal of preventing the memory-robbing syndrome by 2025 is within reach.

“I am actually convinced we will prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by the year 2020,” Morgan said. “We’re going to be part of it...We're deeply involved.”

He said the USF institute’s medical director, Dr. Amanda Smith, will be one of the co-investigators in the $7.9-million multi-center trial of the insulin spray. Its principal investigator is Suzanne Craft at University of Washington in Seattle.

While Morgan lacked details on how much of the funding might end up at USF, he said it should begin to flow in about a month.

It’s part of $50 million the Obama administration has shifted to the Alzheimer’s prevention effort out of the 2012 budget.  Next year’s budget provides a $100 million increase in funding on the disease, which afflicts more than 5 million Americans.

While most of the increase will go toward research, some of it will support education programs for clinicians and support for caregivers, as well as a new website, www.alzheimers.gov , to provide reliable information and resources.

The nasal-spray trial will test the hypothesis that a shortage of insulin in the brain may have something to do with its deterioration and that boosting insulin levels will help. A nasal spray is thought to be the best vehicle for reaching through the brain's protective barrier.

Another clinical trial announced Tuesday will focus on an extended family in Colombia that carries the gene for early-onset Alzheimer's. That trial is being run by Banner Health in Phoenix.

More information on the trials can be found on the National Institute on Aging website.  The final draft of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, also released Tuesday, lists current federal activities and priorities.

Morgan said the Obama administration's initiative makes sense, considering that the disease costs the nation as much as cancer or heart disease but receives only a small fraction as much research funding as either.

"We spend $3 billion on AIDS research, six times as much as on Alzheimer's Disease," he said, even though the number of patients is far smaller.

Morgan attributes the lag on research dollars to "ageism," the mistaken impression that only the very old get Alzheimer's and that such patients are not very important.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.