Blunt’s budget threatens Alzheimer’s research

Thursday, March 24, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 27, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — James Galvin has spent four years investigating how the brain changes as adults grow older, trying to uncover what triggers dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Washington University assistant professor credits a $26,000 seed grant from the state in 2001 for launching his study by giving him the money he needed to start collecting basic data. He then used that data to secure $1.2 million in federal grants to fund his research.

But those state seed grants for Alzheimer’s disease research would be eliminated under Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed budget.

Losing those dollars could seriously hurt Alzheimer’s research in the state, Galvin said.

“I think (the grants) are critical,” he said. “You can’t write a grant to the National Institutes of Health without preliminary data, and you can’t get data unless you have money to do the research.”

Blunt has recommended eliminating the $227,000 program that funds private and public research on Alzheimer’s and related disorders in the 2006 budget year. House lawmakers considering the cut have recommended to the House Budget Committee that the state set aside $500 for the program to at least keep it listed in the state budget.

Medical researchers and Alzheimer’s advocacy groups are lobbying lawmakers to save the program, saying the funding is critical toward discovering a cure.

More than 110,000 Missourians suffer from Alzheimer’s, according to Caroll Rodriguez, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Associations’ St. Louis chapter. The disease is a progressive brain disorder that can lead to memory loss and difficulty reasoning and communicating.

Rodriguez said 95 percent of what researchers know about Alzheimer’s has been discovered in the past 15 years.

“We really are on a fast track and fast learning curve here, and to slow that progress could have devastating implications,” said Rodriguez, who also serves on the program’s advisory committee.

Blunt’s spokeswoman, Jessica Robinson, said the governor’s recommendation to eliminate the research funding is one of the tough decisions necessary to balance the state’s budget.

“The governor’s proposed budget will enable the state

to live within the taxpayers’ means,” Robinson said. “And really those who are opposed to this budget are in favor of a tax increase that won’t solve our state’s budget problem.”

She added that Missouri is one of four states that funds Alzheimer’s research.

The University of Missouri Board of Curators divvies out the grant money to researchers based on an advisory committee’s recommendations. Each grant can be no larger than $30,000 and is intended to encourage up and coming researchers to investigate Alzheimer’s for possible cures and ways to assist caregivers, said Armon Yanders, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders program.

Researchers say the funding not only helps efforts to find a cure, it also helps Missouri’s universities by attracting federal grant money.

Tom Meuser, director of Washington University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, said for every $1 the state has spent on Alzheimer’s research it has attracted more than $10 in federal grants.

“This small investment of a quarter of a million dollars per year yields a thousand percent in terms of new grants,” Meuser said. “You have to invest in your scientific infrastructure just as you invest in your business infrastructure, and grant funds coming to our state are a significant return.”

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