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Hope against Alzheimer's New national research program targets disease devastating millions

The Obama administration has launched a full-scale attack on Alzheimer's disease, and now other elected officials, industry leaders, researchers and families of victims must enlist in this fight.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius unveiled the first National Alzheimer's Plan to address the disease that affects more than 5 million Americans and is expected to cost taxpayers $2 trillion over the next decade. Those frightening numbers will only increase as baby boomers age.

The unprecedented goal is to stop the disease by 2025. Getting within even striking range of that deadline would be considered a rousing success. It will take significant investment and a national commitment to get there.

Congress must significantly increase resources devoted to research, scientists must focus their efforts and private industry must partner with the public sector to advance innovative technologies. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. Brian Higgins are co-sponsors of identical resolutions introduced last month supporting the 2025 goal.

The Obama administration is making a multimillion-dollar commitment toward new Alzheimer's disease research funding. As an example, $50 million is being assigned from the current year's National Institutes of Health budget for research and another $100 million is proposed for 2013. Alzheimer's knows no boundaries. It ravages the minds of individuals who were once bright and vibrant. The number of victims is likely to double from the current 5 million sufferers within 30 years, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

A major clinical trial is about to take place that could lead to prevention of this terrible illness. Researchers will focus on people who are genetically guaranteed to develop the diseases but who have not yet demonstrated any symptoms. That group will, for the first time, be given a drug intended to stop the disease.

Most of the participants come from an extended clan of 5,000 people who live in Medellin, Colombia, and remote mountain villages outside that city. There is a unique opportunity in this particular family, according to Dr. Kinga Szigeti, who heads the University at Buffalo's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center.

The field is moving toward identifying victims and initiating treatment as early as possible, she added, while trying to find a disease-modifying or preventive therapy.

Alzheimer's is a difficult disease to crack and requires huge studies, much effort and a lot of money. That makes the renewed emphasis all the more exciting.

The national plan also launches an $8 million test of a nasal spray and several other efforts to fight the affects of this disease on its victims.

This effort to combat what some call a "silver tsunami" will help more than the millions of Alzheimer's sufferers. If successful, it will free family members of the crushing burden of caring for loved ones.