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Genomics Key to New $130M Alzheimer's Initiative

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Research into Alzheimer's disease will get a $130 million shot in the arm over the next two years under a new Obama Administration plan unveiled this week, and DNA sequencing-based studies will be a core part of the new efforts.

Under the plan, the National Institutes of Health will immediately pump an additional $50 million into Alzheimer's studies this year, with the funds coming from the current NIH budget, and another $80 million in the White House's fiscal year 2013 budget will be marked for more such studies, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The research projects will be based around three broad areas including using genomics to study Alzheimer's and cell-based models to screen for potential therapeutic agents, as well as testing therapies in people who are at high risk of developing the disease, NIH Director Francis Collins explained at a briefing at the National Press Club this week.

Collins said that comprehensive DNA sequencing will be used to identify additional gene variants that play a role in the various forms of the disease, and those that may be involved in protecting people against it.

"Thanks to the new infusion of funds announced today, I think Alzheimer's research is poised for some great discoveries," Collins said, as he explained that new knowledge about the disease and development of new technologies have made this an opportune time to pursue the disease more aggressively.

"We see right now that the opportunity to address this Alzheimer's question is very much at the top of the list of priorities.

"We are getting a far better handle on the molecular basis of Alzheimer's disease, providing real hope for developing entirely new and targeted approaches to treatment and prevention,' said Collins. "In another remarkable advance, recent applications of the genome-wide association study approach have been important in defining pathways involved in Alzheimer's susceptibility, including prominent roles for lipid metabolism and inflammation. These unexpected results provide the potential of completely new approaches to therapy."

The immediate $50 million will come from the budget that was already allocated to NIH for FY2012, and that will require that some funding that was marked for sequencing but which has not yet been allocated will be pulled over into Alzheimer's-related sequencing projects, Collins explained. The additional $80 million will be included in the budget for FY2013, which is scheduled to be released by the White House next week.

"One of the things we are going to do with these additional dollars devoted to this disease is to look particularly at individuals who you would have expected would have developed Alzheimer's – individuals who have that particular genetic variant called APOE4, which we know is a risk factor for Alzheimer's – but who at age 80 or 85 still show no signs of it, either by scanning or by physical or by neurological exam," said Collins. "We would like to know what is the protective factor that might be at work that allows those individuals to avoid the disease."

Collins said that the National Institute on Aging already has collected the samples, the related phenotype and clinical data, and consent forms needed to fuel the research projects.

Alongside the new research funding, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week also said an additional $26 million will be used for other Alzheimer's efforts, including education and outreach, support for patients and caregivers, and improved data collection and analysis to better understand the disease's impact on patients, families, and the healthcare system.