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New Alzheimer's research seeks ways to stall disease in early stages

Look for a fundamental shift in how scientists hunt ways to ward off the devastation of Alzheimer's disease -- by testing possible therapies in people who don't yet show many symptoms, before too much of the brain is destroyed.

The most ambitious attempt: An international study announced Tuesday will track whether an experimental drug can stall the disease in people who appear healthy but are genetically destined to get a type of Alzheimer's that runs in the family. If so, it would be exciting evidence that maybe regular Alzheimer's is preventable too.

The National Institutes of Health will spend an extra $50 million on Alzheimer's research this year, and another study will test whether a nasal spray that sends insulin to the brain helps people with very early memory problems, based on separate research linking diabetes to an increased risk of Alzheimer's.

The new focus emerges as the Obama administration adopts the first national strategy to fight the worsening Alzheimer's epidemic -- a plan that sets the clock ticking toward finally having effective treatments by 2025.

"We are at an exceptional moment," with more important discoveries about Alzheimer's in the last few months than in recent years, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, declared Tuesday.

Future therapy is far from the only goal of the National Alzheimer's Plan. It's a two-pronged approach, promising to provide better support for overwhelmed families.

"A lot more needs to be done, and it needs to be done right now, because people with Alzheimer's disease and their loved ones and caregivers need help right now," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in announcing the plan.

Among the first steps: A new website -- -- that Sebelius called a one-stop shop for families offers easy-to-understand information about dementia.

The government will offer free training to doctors and other health providers on how to spot the early signs of Alzheimer's and care for those patients. This summer, a campaign will begin seeking to improve public awareness of Alzheimer's, important in reducing the stigma that helps fuel late diagnosis and the isolation that so many affected families feel.

Patient advocates applauded the move, and country music legend Glen Campbell, who has Alzheimer's, appeared on Capitol Hill to urge more research.