In the fierce competition for research funding, the Phoenix-based Banner Alzheimer’s Institute has been doing quite well for itself over recent months.
In May, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute (BAI) announced that it had received a $6.5 million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health to renovate and expand its research facilities. In June, it announced that it had won $2.6 million more in stimulus funding to purchase a new cyclotron for creating the radioactive elements used in molecular imaging. The institute also received $3.5 million from the Norris Foundation to support the new Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, and another $1 million from the Ethel and Kemper Marley Foundation to develop and provide support services for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.
The $13.6 million in funding, for such a broad range of projects, is one indication of how vast the challenges are that Alzheimer’s disease poses to researchers and caregivers. The support also shows how important BAI is within the substantial Alzheimer’s research community in Arizona, where a number of other organizations are also engaged in major efforts to understand and fight the disease.
“Our mission at BAI is to end Alzheimer’s disease without losing another generation,” said Eric Reiman, executive director of BAI, director of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, and the lead investigator for the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative. “At the same time, we’re also dedicated to establishing a new standard of care in support of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their families. I have no doubt that these generous grants will play a key role in our quest to reach these goals.”
Construction and new imaging equipment
The funding to renovate and expand BAI’s research facilities by 18,000 square feet will give the institute room for the new cyclotron, enable Dr. Reiman and his colleagues to hire new staff, and provide opportunities for researchers at other institutions to access BAI’s technology.
“I hope this will not only galvanize new research areas, but foster recruitment here and other places,” Dr. Reiman said in the Arizona Republic.
The new cyclotron–a machine that will weigh 100 tons–will replace an older cyclotron no longer adequate for producing the short-half-life isotopes used in brain imaging for studying Alzheimer’s. Because the elements decay so quickly, they cannot be shipped long distances; without a new device, a number of Alzheimer’s projects would be unable to continue in Arizona.
“When we get our new systems, we’ll be able to more than address our own needs as well as other people’s needs,” Dr. Reiman said in the Phoenix Business Journal. “We will be able to produce these tracers in a much more productive way. We’ll be able to make these tracers and transport them to Tucson or Mayo Clinic or other places that need them.”
The construction project should be finished by fall 2011. Dr. Reiman said in the Business Journal that the project would create 100 construction jobs, and 35 permanent positions.
Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, assisted Dr. Reiman in making the case for BAI and Arizona in the grant application.
“We demonstrated what kind of return on the taxpayers’ dollar the federal government gets and the size of the Alzheimer’s market occurring in Arizona,” Broome said in the Business Journal.
Through the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, supported by the Norris Foundation grant, BAI will conduct a number of investigations. One of the largest is a study of a 5,000-strong set of extended families in Medellin, Colombia. Some 40 percent of the individuals in the families to be studied carry a gene mutation tied to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Researchers will be providing experimental drugs to people with and without the mutation to see whether treatments can delay or prevent the onset of the disease.
“We believe now is the time to launch the era of Alzheimer’s prevention research,” Dr. Reiman said in the Arizona Republic. “Our long-standing interest has been accelerating the evaluation of promising, pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s treatments before the onset of symptoms.”
“This is the only place in the world where we can find a family like this, where it’s possible to do prevention therapy more easily,” said Francisco Lopera, a Colombian physician, in the New York Times. Dr. Lopera, who had worked with the families for nearly 30 years, helped trace the cause of the families’ Alzheimer’s predisposition to the gene mutation.
Dr. Reiman, who is leading the project with Pierre Tariot, BAI’s associate director, said that working with the Colombian families is not only a rare research opportunity, but a chance to serve patients in great need.
“We’d be giving people at the highest imminent risk of Alzheimer’s access to treatment they wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said in the Times.
In concert with the Colombian study, BAI researchers will be recruiting several hundred individuals from around Arizona who carry a different gene mutation linked with higher susceptibility to Alzheimer’s. These patients will also be given access to experimental treatments, and their response will be compared to the Colombian study participants.
For more information:
”Banner Alzheimer’s Institute Awarded $7.1 Million in Grants for Research, New Technology,” Banner Alzheimer’s Institute news release, 06/14/2010
”2 studies take aim at early treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,” Arizona Republic, 06/13/2010
”Alzheimer’s stalks a Colombian family,” New York Times, 06/01/2010
”2 institutions get $21.5 million for research space,” Arizona Republic, 05/18/2010
”Banner gets $6.5M for Alzheimer’s research,” Phoenix Business Journal, 05/17/2010