BRAIN Initiative Embraces More Than Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is not only devastating those who develop the disease. It affects the family and others who love the person who must live with the disease, and it affects our nation as a whole because of the high cost of care.
According to research led by an economist at the RAND Corporation, expenses for dementia, including nursing home care, were $109 billion in 2010. To put that into perspective, heart disease costs totaled $102 billion and cancer totaled $77 billion. The amount of money spent on heart disease and cancer is enormous, however through preventive intervention, early diagnosis and better drugs, the number of people developing these diseases are holding steady or even decreasing.
Not so with Alzheimer’s disease. The RAND study results show that nearly 15 percent of people aged 71 or older, about 3.8 million people, have dementia. By 2040, study authors said that number will grow to 9.1 million people if a cure isn’t found. That means that the amount of money spent caring for people with Alzheimer’s, if the disease goes unchecked, will grow exponentially.
While the monetary cost of lost wages and medical care for those who have other diseases caused by brain disorders are staggering, the accompanying emotional cost is immeasurable. Last week, President Obama announced a project that he hopes will make a difference in not only the monetary cost of future Alzheimer’s care, but in the scale of human anguish.
The president wants to launch a $100 million project that will map the human brain. The project, labeled the "Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies," also known as the BRAIN Initiative, will be coordinated and supported by the National Institutes of Health, as well as the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Corporations, as well as universities and private research facilities, are also expected to contribute to the BRAIN Initiative’s work.
This BRAIN Initiative, which will create a Brain Activity Map (BAM), has the potential to change for the better those frightening projections about Alzheimer’s disease. The desired scenario for brain mapping would be a better understanding not only of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, but more understanding of other serious brain diseases including major depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
As with most large projects, there are unknown factors. An article on Smithsonian.com by Randy Reiland discusses not only what the project hopes to achieve, but why some scientists have doubts about it. Those scientists say that being able to record the activity of the brain still may not give scientists insight into how thinking happens. In effect, they aren’t sure how useful the new information will be.
Overall, though, most scientists seem to agree that we need to move forward with this project. A group of European countries is working on the Human Brain Project, which will try to simulate human brain activity through computers. Learning to understand the human brain so that these devastating diseases can be prevented or cured, should be a worldwide undertaking and that means the U.S. needs to do its share.
The BRAIN initiative is an investment. It will cost money, but in addition to potentially constraining the crushing human toll of brain disorders, the monetary savings could be enormous. By preventing or curing these diseases fewer people will need services and more will be able to contribute to the economy.
Innovative research requires dedicated financing. Considering the potentially far reaching effects of this brain research we can hope that it will be fully funded.
Hurd, D. (2013, April 4) Monetary Costs of Dementia in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1204629
Belluck, P. (2013, April) Dementia Care Cost Is Projected to Double by 2040. New York Times.
Belluck, P. (2013, April 3) Dementia Care Cost Is Projected to Double by 2040. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/health/dementia-care-costs-are-soaring-study-finds.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130404
Rieland, R. (2013, February 25) Mapping How the Brain Thinks. The Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2013/02/mapping-how-the-brain-thinks/