Column: From Alzheimer's to Zika, working to solve problems

Q: What's the federal government's stake in seeking a cure for Alzheimer's disease? A: More than five million Americans today are living with Alzheimer's disease. Nearly two-thirds of these individuals are women. And unless medical breakthroughs ...

Q: What’s the federal government’s stake in seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?


A: More than five million Americans today are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly two-thirds of these individuals are women. And unless medical breakthroughs are discovered to unlock causes and cures, the number of Americans who will receive this diagnosis is expected to triple to more than 16 million by 2050.

This debilitating disease steals memories and quality of life from millions of Americans coping with the symptoms of dementia. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Without a doubt, it also places a tremendous toll on family caregivers. For the tens of millions of Americans who bear the burden of losing their loved onesto the indignities of dementia, immeasurable sorrow and loss go hand in hand with the degenerative nature of the disease. And in our aging society, the measurable toll on pocketbooks and public treasuries will place an escalating burden on American society and U.S. households.


However, there is hope on the horizon. Promising research is under way to diagnose, prevent and treat the disease, including clinical trials to test vaccines. The National Institutes of Health will spend more than $1 billion this year on Alzheimer’s medical research. As a taxpayer watchdog, I work to make sure these tax dollars get the most bang for the buck. That includes making the most effective use of scarce resources stretched to cover many additional priorities for public health.

Americans from all walks of life overwhelmingly agree with the need to find 21st century causes and cures for diseases that are cutting lives short, straining budgets, draining health care dollars and hampering productivity in the workplace. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for $1 out of $5 spent by Medicare each year. At the current pace, that spending pathway presents an unsustainable strain on the federal budget. In fact, by 2050 Medicare spending on Alzheimer’s is projected to reach more than $500 million and cost $1.1 trillion to the economy.


In America, ingenuity, hard work and risk-taking have driven innovation and scientific discovery to help grow the economy, create jobs and improve the quality of life from generation to generation. We can put that magic to work to help capture the “Eureka” moment for Alzheimer’s disease.  


Q: What’s the new research incentive you’re advancing for Alzheimer’s disease?



A: I am joining a bipartisan effort that would reward researchers for achieving major, measurable milestones in America’s quest to detect early diagnosis, identify causes and discover cures for this debilitating disease. That’s why it makes sense for public policy to direct scarce dollars toward innovative breakthroughs that will make a difference.

Our bipartisan bill is called the EUREKA Act. It stands for “Ensuring Useful Research Expenditures is Key for Alzheimer’s” Act. It would authorize new funding, beyond what’s already in the pipeline, and create prize competitions for advancements in Alzheimer’s research. The National Institutes of Health would be able to utilize these resources as extra incentive for innovation.

As policymakers redouble efforts to trigger medical advancements, there’s a double bonus built into the prize competitions. The EUREKAfunding stream would pay out only for results; the rest returns to the federal treasury. It’s the best of both worlds that would encourage collaboration among public-private research to improve early detection, identify biomarkers, strengthen treatment protocol and drive investment to find a cure.


The EUREKA Act builds upon efforts that have been long under waysince Alzheimer’s disease was discovered more than a century ago. The National Alzheimer’s Project Act, enacted into law five years ago, prioritized efforts already in the works to push for new treatments and unlock a cure in the 21st century. The EUREKA Act recognizes the crown jewels of America’s system of free enterprise: competition and innovation. Our bill would accelerate the drive to make a difference in people’s lives.



Q: How does Kevin and Avonte’s Law help Alzheimer’s families?  


A: On a regular basis, I hear heartbreaking stories of memory lossand dementia, the overwhelming emotional and financial strain on caregivers andstrongadvocacy from Iowans regarding the impact Alzheimer’s has on their familiesand care providers. In fact, I have learned that many families touched by autism or Alzheimer’s in their households share something in common. Their loved ones are at risk of wandering into harm’s way.

A family from Jefferson lost their 9-year-old son who had autism in 2008 when he wandered from safety and drowned in the Raccoon River. More can be done to support these families and improve communication and community outreach to strengthen public safety. That’s why I co-wrote a bill this year to reauthorize and create new reporting tools to help track persons with autism or Alzheimer’s disease. This bipartisan bill applies proven community alert systems and training to help locate people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and other related disorders who may be susceptible to wandering away from safety. It also supports training for local first responders, community officials and school personnel with tools to help prevent and respond to these cases. The Senate approved our bill this summer.

I will continuelistening to Iowans to prioritize and enact public policies that make a difference for the public health.  From A to Z, from Alzheimer’s to Zika, I work to solve problems.

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