Alzheimer’s Research

Testing drugs to treat brain disease

If researchers don’t develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s, the disease will end up costing $1 trillion a year by 2050. That’s unacceptable, says Jeffrey Cummings, MD, ScD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada and Cleveland.

An estimated 13 million people in the United States will have the disease by 2050, compared to about 5 million now, he says. Worldwide, the prevalence is expected to be 100 million. “We have to stem the tide,” says Dr. Cummings. “We have to find treatments.”

It’s not enough to try to prevent the disease. Following a diet rich in antioxidants and staying active physically and mentally can help reduce risk or delay onset, but won’t necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s. ”You can do these things and still get the disease,” he says. “We need drugs to treat the disease.”

The only way to develop these drugs is through research. “Although we think research is expensive, look at the alternative,” Dr. Cummings says. “There are about 100 drugs in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. We expect 95 percent to fail. Just imagine, if we had five prevail, we would change the face of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Declining federal funding has made it difficult for researchers to get the support they need. Consequently, philanthropy is necessary to advance research. Philanthropic support, because it’s less restrictive than government grants, gives researchers the freedom to take risks in developing new therapies and discovering new biomarkers, and it supports “exciting young scientists” who otherwise do not have the track record to obtain a grant, says Dr. Cummings.

‘Cathedral of the Mind’

Dr. Cummings’ office is in the Frank Gehry-designed building that houses the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. “It’s a great cathedral of the mind that opens up into this wonderful spiritual place,” he says. “It is the most spectacular clinic building in the world.”

Honoring the father of Las Vegas businessman Larry Ruvo, the center had its beginnings in the late 1990s, when Mr. Ruvo set a goal to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which took his father’s life in 1994, and to help those caring for family members grappling with the disease. He established the Keep Memory Alive organization to support research into brain disorders.

Mr. Ruvo and Keep Memory Alive partnered with Cleveland Clinic and, in 2009, together they opened the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The center’s mission is to prevent disabling symptoms of chronic brain diseases and prolong healthy, vital aging in people who are at risk of dementia or cognitive disorders. Treatment follows Cleveland Clinic’s institute model of patient-centered, multidisciplinary care, integrating clinical care, research and prevention. Multiple approaches are employed, including cognitive and physical exercise, medication, and assessment and treatment of risk factors.

Mr. Ruvo and Keep Memory Alive enabled Cleveland Clinic’s expansion of brain health research and medical care in a unique, visually striking building designed by Gehry, an internationally renowned architect. Such is the power of philanthropy.

To make a gift supporting the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Neurological Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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