More than 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease, making it the most common form of dementia and the fifth leading cause of death. With November marking Alzheimer’s Awareness month, one foundation is working to raise awareness and more funds toward research as they race to provide better treatment and ultimately find a cure for the neurodegenerative disease.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation has for the past 20 years worked to educate patients, caregivers and fellow researchers on the disease, which affects 5.3 million Americans. The privately funded foundation distributes more than 85 percent of donations to various missions dedicated eradicating the disease, and it has made significant strides along the way.
Led by Nobel Laureate and neuroscientist Dr. Paul Greengard, researchers in the foundation’s lab say they have emerged from the dark ages of Alzheimer’s research and are experiencing a renaissance period.
“The foundation and Dr. Greengard have two main priorities,” Dr. Marc Flajolet, assistant research professor at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, told FoxNews.com. “One is to understand the disease, and the other is to use this knowledge to transform it into a cure.”
Flajolet explained that one breakthrough involves understanding the very beginning stages of Alzheimer’s that involves several small molecules of genes. He said the next step is for the lab to develop drugs with medicinal chemists to use the molecules as a way to block that step and reduce the buildup of amyloid plaques, which is a hallmark of the disease. He is also optimistic about more accurate clinical trials due to information that wasn’t available 10 years ago. While acknowledging it’s hard to judge how far away researchers are from finding a cure, Flajolet hailed the work being done to find new treatments.
“For sure we have better treatments coming,” he said. “They are not necessarily yet curing the disease, but they are really helping with many types of symptoms. The cure will be down the road. At this point it’s really just hard to tell if it’s going to take another five to seven years.”
One of the most important aspects of finding a cure is ensuring that funds continue to come in so researchers and scientists can continue their work.
“We know very well the expression ‘Time is money,’” Flajolet said. “I think in research it’s true as well, but I think in research it’s really the other way around— money is time. Really the more money we have, the more time we can save. And in this case, when we are racing against time for this disease, I think obviously the more money we have, the more we can do.”
Murray Rubin, secretary of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, told FoxNews.com that one of the reasons the center can allocate funds so well is they don’t have to rely on major fundraising events. Sponsors, networking and private donations comprise a majority of the contributions.
“We spend more than 85 percent of our money contributions on our mission, so we’re a lean, mean organization so to speak,” said Rubin, who also spoke of the foundations 4-star charity navigator rating. “We don’t spend a tremendous amount on fundraising— we don’t have mass mailings, we don’t have advertising, we’re totally privately funded.”
Rubin said that the foundation’s website ALZInfo.org not only provides a place for people to find answers to any questions they may have, but it also reports updates from the lab and directs users on how to donate. The Fisher Center also circulates a magazine titled “Preserving Your Memory” three times per year.
The nonprofit has established goals once they eradicate Alzheimer’s, as researchers have along the way discovered pathways in the brain that relate to other neurodegenerative diseases. Rubin said the foundation is dedicating to fulfilling whatever the mission is that needs to be fulfilled.