Medical Research Editorials

Every 68 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease – a devastating and irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys an individual’s cognitive functioning, including memory and thought. Kansas City physician Dr. Richard Padula and his wife, Marta, had been married for 51 years when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. It is difficult to imagine the anguish Dick, Marta and their family and friends experienced as he deteriorated from a leading heart surgeon into someone unable to comprehend a newspaper article. Unfortunately, these heart-wrenching stories have become all too common.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Facts & Figures, Alzheimer’s currently affects more than 5.2 million people in the United States and more than 35.6 million worldwide. As the population ages, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after age 65 will double every five years, while the number of individuals 85 years and older with this disease will triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and there is currently no cure, no diagnostic test and no treatment for this terrible disease.

As a nation, we must commit to defeating one of the greatest threats to the health of Americans and the financial well-being of our country. In 1962, President Kennedy called our nation to action to reach the moon by the end of that decade. We must strive to achieve not only an effective treatment, but a cure for Alzheimer’s over the next decade. President Kennedy’s words still ring true today – we should choose this endeavor, “because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

On Wednesday, we will hold a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the impacts of Alzheimer’s – both economic and personal – and the state of current research initiatives. It is critical to confront the pending health care crisis and financial costs as the baby boomer generation ages.

Caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to cost $203 billion this year, with $142 billion covered by the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid. A study by the RAND Corporation stated that the cost of dementia care is projected to double over the next 30 years, surpassing health care expenses for both heart disease and cancer. Without a way to prevent, cure or effectively treat Alzheimer’s, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to rein in our nation’s health care costs. Alzheimer’s has become a disease to define a generation, but if we focus and prioritize our research capacity, it does not need to continue as an inevitable part of aging.

It is time to truly commit to defeating this disease in the next decade – a goal no more ambitious than the goal set forth for the Apollo space program. For every $270 Medicare and Medicaid spends caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research. Yet, research suggests that more progress could be made with a boost in investment. One study found that a breakthrough against Alzheimer’s that delays the onset of the disease by five years would mean an annual savings of $447 billion by 2050.

A sustained federal commitment to research for Alzheimer’s will lower costs and improve health outcomes for people living with the disease today and in the future. As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the National Institute of Health (NIH) I am committed to prioritizing funding for Alzheimer’s research.

Last year, the omnibus appropriations bill increased funding for the NIH by $100 million to support Alzheimer’s research, and supported the initial year of funding for the new initiative to map the human brain. Both projects will increase our understanding of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s, unlock the mysteries of the makeup and functioning of the brain, and bring us closer to effective treatments and one day – hopefully – a cure. Alzheimer’s is a defining challenge of our generation.

We must commit to a national goal to defeat this devastating disease over the next decade by supporting the critical research carried out by the scientists and researchers across our nation supported by the NIH. The health and financial future of our nation are at stake and the United States cannot afford to ignore such a threat. Together, we can make a sustained commitment to Alzheimer’s research that will benefit our nation and bring hope to future generations of Americans. The challenge is ours and the moment to act is now.

Every 68 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease – a devastating and irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys an individual’s cognitive functioning, including memory and thought. Kansas City physician Dr. Richard Padula and his wife, Marta, had been married for 51 years when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. It is difficult to imagine the anguish Dick, Marta and their family and friends experienced as he deteriorated from a leading heart surgeon into someone unable to comprehend a newspaper article. Unfortunately, these heart-wrenching stories have become all too common.

Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.2 million people in the United States and more than 35.6 million worldwide. As the population ages, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after age 65 will double every five years, while the number of individuals 85 years and older with this disease will triple by 2050. Already, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and there is currently no cure, no diagnostic test, and no treatment for this terrible disease.  

As a nation, we must commit to defeating one of the greatest threats to the health of Americans and the financial well-being of our country. In 1962, President Kennedy called our nation to action to reach the moon by the end of that decade. We need to commit ourselves to a goal no more ambitious, and just as imperative. We must strive to achieve not only an effective treatment, but a cure for Alzheimer’s over the next decade. 

President Kennedy’s words still ring true today – we should choose this endeavor, “because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

As the baby boomer generation ages and Alzheimer’s disease becomes more prevalent, the need to confront the pending health care crisis has become ever more urgent. The financial costs alone can no longer be ignored. Caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to cost $203 billion this year, with $142 billion covered by the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid. A recent study by the RAND Corporation stated that the cost of dementia care is projected to double over the next 30 years, surpassing health care expenses for both heart disease and cancer. Without a way to prevent, cure or effectively treat Alzheimer’s, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to rein in our nation’s health care costs. Alzheimer’s has become a disease to define a generation, but if we focus and prioritize our research capacity, it does not need to continue as an inevitable part of aging.

It is time to truly commit to defeating this disease in the next decade – a goal no more ambitious than the goal set forth for the Apollo space program. For every $27 Medicare and Medicaid spends caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research. Yet, research suggests that more progress could be made if given more support. One study found that a breakthrough against Alzheimer’s that delays the onset of the disease by five years would mean an annual savings of $362 billion by 2050. A sustained federal commitment to research for Alzheimer’s will lower costs and improve health outcomes for people living with the disease today and in the future. 

As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the focal point for our nation’s medical research infrastructure, I am committed to prioritizing funding for Alzheimer’s research. This year, the Senate Subcommittee increased funding for the National Institute on Aging – the lead institute for Alzheimer’s research at the NIH – by $84 million, and supported the initial year of funding for the new presidential initiative to map the human brain. Both projects will increase our understanding of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s, unlock the mysteries of the brain, and bring us closer to effective treatments and one day, hopefully, a cure.

Alzheimer’s is a defining challenge of our generation. We must commit to a national goal to defeat this devastating disease over the next decade by supporting the critical research carried out by the scientists and researchers across our nation supported by the NIH. 

The health and financial future of our nation are at stake and the United States cannot afford to ignore such a threat. Together, we can make a sustained commitment to Alzheimer’s research that will benefit our nation and bring hope to families like the Padulas, as well as future generations of Americans. The challenge is ours and the moment to act is now.

This week, the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) made significant progress in its battle against cancer when it was selected as a “National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center.” NCI is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and our nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training, which focuses on turning laboratory discoveries into new treatments for cancer patients. Achieving this new designation will dramatically enhance KUCC’s ability to discover, develop and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state and region – offering hope to thousands of cancer patients.

Our nation’s cancer centers are at the front line in the global effort to combat cancer. Until this week, there were 66 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers across our country but none in Kansas. With this exclusive designation, KUCC patients will have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC will also be better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures here in Kansas.

KUCC’s pursuit of NCI designation began more than a decade ago and was made possible by the strong support from the local community in Kansas City, the state of Kansas, and the entire region. KUCC estimates its pursuit of NCI designation has already created more than 1,100 jobs and had a regional economic impact of $453 million. The good news is that this is only the beginning because studies show that NCI designation will attract thousands more jobs and billions of dollars to our state’s economy. This extraordinary accomplishment will have a transformative effect on our state’s economy, enabling Kansas to continue developing into a research powerhouse for medical, pharmaceutical and technological advancement.

Last September, when KUCC submitted its official application for NCI designation, I formally supported this endeavor by contributing to KUCC’s application package. Additionally, on February 22, 2012, I was honored to attend KUCC’s official NCI site visit to speak to NCI scientists and express my full and ongoing commitment to KUCC in its pursuit of NCI designation.

Our nation has long recognized the importance of a sustained commitment to advancing cancer research, which has saved millions of lives and billions of dollars. As a member of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, I have the opportunity to help shape a budget for our nation that prioritizes life-saving medical research and cost-effective health programs. Last fall, I offered an amendment to prevent a reduction in the NIH and NCI budgets for 2012. My amendment was fully offset and would have prioritized medical research, such as the enhanced research opportunities that NCI designation will afford KUCC, without adding to our nation’s annual deficit. Earlier this month, I offered a similar amendment to significantly boost the NIH budget for FY2013 that was also fully offset, because now is not the time to waiver on America’s commitment to advancing disease cures and treatments.

The next century holds great promise for future discoveries. Thanks to our nation’s commitment to cancer research, more than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors. Yet, there is so much more to be done. By investing in medical research, we are investing in our future and driving economic growth. KUCC is uniquely suited to make a lasting impact on the millions of Americans living within its service area that spans 120,000 square miles. I congratulate the teams at KUCC, KU Medical Center, KU Hospital and other partners on this outstanding achievement that will have a life-changing impact on Kansans for generations to come.

Throughout human history, medical research has been responsible for hundreds of ground-breaking discoveries that have improved and saved lives, enabled healthcare to become more effective and efficient, and lowered overall healthcare costs. In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming forever changed the landscape of modern medicine with his discovery of penicillin. In the years that followed, researchers and scientists discovered that genes are made of DNA, polio can be prevented with a vaccine, and lives can be saved with organ transplants.

Research has also led to the development of medical equipment such as x-ray machines, MRI technology, and lasers, which have enhanced the ability of medical professionals to diagnose and treat their patients. By harnessing decades of research, cancer mortality rates have steadily declined since 1990 and today more than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors. The mortality rate from heart disease has dropped by 60% and the rate for stroke victims has also declined by 70% in recent decades.

Our nation has long recognized the importance of a sustained commitment to advancing medical research. Congress’ long-standing, bipartisan support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been an integral part of establishing the United States as a world leader in research and innovation. Scientists and researchers at NIH, the focal point of our nation’s medical research, play a critical role in the initial stages of research—laying the groundwork for the private sector to develop new drugs and treatments.

Medical Research

I recently had the opportunity to see firsthand how medical research is being translated into new treatments during a visit to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD—the nation’s largest hospital devoted entirely to clinical research. The Center is uniquely designed to enable researchers to work directly alongside a wide range of specialists, who deliver the best possible care to patients with the most advanced treatments available. This powerful arrangement has led to a long list of revolutionary medical discoveries, including the development of chemotherapy for cancer, the first tests to detect AIDS/HIV, and the first treatment of AIDS.

Given the vast amount of progress made over the last century and the great potential current research holds, now is not the time to waiver on America’s commitment to advancing disease cures and treatments. Medical research leading to successful discoveries often takes years, requiring the institutional knowledge and intellect of numerous highly qualified, committed researchers. If researchers cannot rely on consistent support from Congress, we will squander current progress, stunt America’s global competitiveness, and lose younger generations of doctors and scientists to alternative career paths.

In September, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2012 that reduced the NIH budget by $190 million over the FY2011 level. To support the ongoing pursuit of life-changing medical discoveries, I offered an amendment in the committee markup of the bill to restore funding to the NIH budget by making small reductions to other programs. 

My amendment was fully offset and would have prioritized medical research without adding a dime to our nation’s annual deficit. I offered this amendment to send a clear signal to our nation’s researchers and scientists that Congress supports their work and will make sure they have the resources needed to carry out their important research.

My commitment to medical research remains steadfast and I will continue to work throughout the ongoing appropriations process to address this priority. Despite significant advances in research over the last few decades, much work still remains. In our country, heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of death for both men and women.

Each year, heart disease claims the lives of more loved ones than any other disease, and cancer takes an additional person’s life every minute, each day. It is estimated that one out of every three women and one out of every two men will develop cancer during their lifetime. But history demonstrates that with a strong commitment to medical research, we can change these statistics.

Kansas Bioscience Industry

The next century holds great promise for future discoveries. By investing in medical research, we are investing in our future. In my home state of Kansas, the bioscience industry has grown at a faster rate than the national sector since 2001. This growth opens the doors for new medical and technological advancements. Kansas has already become a leader in advancing biomedical and bioscience research.

One such example is the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be built adjacent to Kansas State University in Manhattan and estimated to be operational in the next few years. This state-of-the-art biosecurity lab will replace our country’s antiquated foreign animal research facility at Plum Island, NY, which has a limited capacity to respond to animal disease threats.

NBAF will also accelerate the development of vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics to protect our country’s food supply and agriculture economy from foreign animal disease outbreaks introduced into our country naturally, accidentally or deliberately by terrorists.

A second example is the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) in Kansas City, which in September formally applied to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to become an NCI-designated Cancer Center. NCI is a component of NIH, and our nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training. Obtaining NCI designation would dramatically enhance KUCC’s ability to discover, develop, and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state, improving their quality of life.

Currently, there are 66 NCI-designated cancer centers across the country—but none in Kansas. With NCI designation, KUCC patients would have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC would also be better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures in Kansas.

Another example is the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR) at Wichita State University. Wichita has long been known as the “Air Capital of the World,” because of its long history of aviation manufacturing. At CIBOR, physicians, engineers, and scientists are using composite materials developed by aviation manufacturers to improve advanced medical devices, such as artificial knees and hips. This unprecedented research partnership between the healthcare and aviation sectors is generating new devices to improve patients’ lives.

Jobs

Medical research also helps create thousands of jobs and drives economic growth across our country. NIH directly supports 350,000 jobs nationwide, and indirectly drives more than 6 million jobs across our country.

United for Medical Research, a coalition of many of the nation’s leading scientific research institutions and industries, estimates that in 2010, NIH investment led to the creation of nearly 490,000 quality jobs and produced more than $68 billion in new economic activity across the country. The biomedical industry alone has shown faster job growth when compared to other industries, and consistently offers higher wages—exceeding the national average by more than $24,000.

Wellness Promotion

Finally, medical research lowers costs by advancing treatments to chronic, debilitating diseases and improving early detection and wellness promotion. During a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee hearing earlier this year, I asked NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins to explain how medical research at NIH could reduce healthcare spending. In his response, he pointed to the potential impact of medical research on Alzheimer disease.

Today, annual costs related to Alzheimer disease are roughly $180 billion and are expected to rise to roughly $1 trillion by 2050. However, medical research leading to treatments that delay the onset of Alzheimer disease could not only bring hope to thousands of families, but also save billions of dollars. Director Collins also highlighted how research contributed to reducing the mortality rate for heart attack victims by 60% in recent decades, at a cost amounting to just $3.70 per American.

Medical research has changed the lives of millions of Americans and has the potential to impact millions more because the possibilities are endless. But in order to plan for the future, scientists and researchers need certainty.

Today, Congress faces the difficult task of identifying our government’s funding priorities, while at the same time righting our nation’s fiscal course. Moving forward, I will continue to advocate for fiscal responsibility, and I will also prioritize programs that effectively serve the American people.

Our consistent, sustained support of medical research is essential to saving and improving lives, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s role as a global leader in medical innovation. This commitment will benefit our children and our country for generations to come.

Kansas has the potential to become a thriving research powerhouse for medical, pharmaceutical and technological advancement. To achieve this success, we must lay the necessary groundwork by educating and preparing a skilled workforce, creating an entrepreneur-friendly environment to attract high-tech companies, and strengthening our research and technology infrastructure. Such efforts are underway at the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) in Kansas City.

Last month, KUCC formally applied to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to become an “NCI-designated Cancer Center.” NCI is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and our nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training. Obtaining NCI designation would dramatically enhance KUCC’s ability to discover, develop and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state, improving their quality of life. Currently, there are 66 NCI-designated cancer centers across the country - but none in Kansas. With NCI designation, KUCC patients would have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. 

Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC would also be better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures in Kansas City. KUCC has already made wonderful progress in raising the necessary funds to enhance its research laboratories, equipment and personnel, including more than $350 million in private and public funds. Furthermore, studies have shown that NCI designation would attract thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to our state’s economy. Economic development on this scale would not only impact thousands of Kansans today, but would benefit residents for years to come.

Medical research creates endless possibilities and can lead directly to improved care and treatment right here in our own state. Earlier this year, I met with Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of NCI and a Nobel Prize recipient for his cancer research, to learn more about the latest developments in research and treatments. Dr. Varmus explained that while cancer is a complex disease, recent advances in research are changing the landscape of treatment.

I had the opportunity to learn firsthand how laboratory discoveries are being translated into new treatments during a recent visit to the Clinical Center at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland – the nation’s largest hospital devoted entirely to clinical research. Currently, there are 1,500 clinical research studies in progress at the Center and 10,000 new patients being cared for annually. The Center is uniquely designed to enable researchers to work alongside a wide range of specialists, who deliver the best possible care to patients with the most advanced treatments available. This a powerful arrangement that has led to a long list of groundbreaking medical discoveries, including the development of chemotherapy for cancer, the first tests to detect AIDS/HIV, and the first treatment of AIDS.

Our nation’s scientists are continuing to make important progress against some of the world’s most devastating diseases and our state stands ready to make a greater impact in the effort to improve health and save lives. I commend the teams at KUCC, KU Medical Center, and other partners for their pursuit of NCI designation and I strongly support their application. KUCC is poised to deliver results that will significantly impact cancer research, drive economic development in our state now and well into the future – and most importantly, offer hope to thousands of patients in Kansas and across our country.

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