By Representative Suzan DelBene
Earlier this spring, I heard from local Alzheimer’s advocates in Bothell about the heartbreaking toll the disease takes on millions of families each year. Their stories were powerful and demonstrated the ongoing need to increase federal investments in medical research — a critical step toward saving lives and improving care for those living with Alzheimer’s.
I started my career in immunology research, so I know funding for life sciences research is an investment in our nation’s long-term health and prosperity. If we are serious about breaking new ground in understanding complex diseases like Alzheimer’s, and if we hope to accelerate the speed with which new treatments are developed, then it’s essential that we increase funding for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There’s some exciting work taking place here in Washington that illustrates just how crucial these investments are. Right now, a breakthrough medication is being developed in Seattle to treat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, based on basic research conducted at Washington State University with funding from the NIH and our state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF). The drug has been shown to regenerate connections between brain cells in animals and may offer new hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s — but it would not have been possible without the initial NIH support.
Unfortunately, Congress has consistently failed to prioritize research funding. During the last 10 years, contributions toward biomedical research have consistently failed to keep pace with inflation, causing NIH’s purchasing power to diminish by more than 20 percent since 2003. Irresponsible budget cuts during sequestration further exacerbated this trend, reducing NIH’s budget by an additional 5 percent in 2013.
Thankfully we are starting to make some positive progress. With my support, the House of Representatives recently passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) that would: invest an additional $8.75 billion in NIH life sciences research during the next five years; streamline the review of new treatments by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and help new medical researchers start their careers. This is an important first step and I’m hopeful the Senate will move quickly on this legislation.
There’s also more we can do. That’s why I support the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act which would improve care coordination for patients and their families, as well as legislation to issue a semi-postal stamp on Alzheimer’s through the U.S. Postal Service.
The time to invest in long-term solutions for Americans with Alzheimer’s is now. In the coming months and years, I look forward to continuing these important efforts with my colleagues in Congress and the dedicated volunteers of the Alzheimer’s Association Washington Chapter, who are doing incredible work on behalf of the families affected by Alzheimer’s in our state and nationwide.
The Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s is meant to guide the help and resources for over 100,000 individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in Washington. Attend a Town Hall event in your community to learn more.