Leading U.S. & Dutch Researchers Swap Ideas on Alzheimer's

Martha Snyder Taggart, BrightFocus Editor, Science Communications
  • Science News
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International collaboration is vital to conquering diseases that know no borders. Knowing that, BrightFocus, in partnership with Internationale Stichting Alzheimer Onderzoek (ISAO) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy, held an innovative networking forum to facilitate the collaborations and flow of data between our countries.

View a slideshow of the embassy event.

On July 21, in conjunction with an international Alzheimer’s meeting in Washington, DC,  Dutch Ambassador Rudolf Bekink welcomed more than 100 scientists from the United States and the Netherlands (including many ISAO and BrightFocus grantees) to the Dutch embassy. Guests also included representatives of both the Dutch and U.S. national Alzheimer’s plans, industry representatives, Alzheimer’s clinicians, and other distinguished guests.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Bekink took Alzheimer’s  pulse of both our nations. The Netherlands, population 17 million, has 260,000 residents with dementia. With an average life expectancy of 81.1 years, and its fastest growing population aged 45-49 years, the disease burden from dementia is expected to double in the next 25 years, to half a million people by 2040.

The United States, population 319 million, average life expectancy 78.7 years, is home to more than 5 million people  with Alzheimer’s. The fastest-growing population group is Baby Boomers aged 65-69 years old, who are now entering the high- risk period in  high numbers. Thus, the Alzheimer’s population is expected to triple, to 14 million, by 2050.

With the same health threat overshadowing both our countries, both the United States and Holland are  developing Alzheimer’s care models.  Our two nations are also amongst the strongest supporters of Alzheimer’s research on the planet.

“I am honored to be speaking to researchers from the Netherlands, where social care models are so advanced,” said Linda Elam, PhD, MPH, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Disability, Aging, and Long-Term Care Policy in the Department of Health and Human Services.  In Holland, the Netherlands health ministry has successfully introduced group homes in cities and on farms as residential treatment facilities. In those home-like settings, they’re doing a remarkable job of extending quality of life for people with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.

[More stories are planned on these and other innovative Alzheimer’s care models being introduced in the United States and internationally.]

Holding up her copy of the U.S. National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, Elam described how, in similar ways, that initiative of President Obama’s has helped to marshall and coordinate resources within the federal government. Her office is working to build dementia-friendly communities, expand community-based care options, and reduce inappropriate use of anti-psychotic medications in the Alzheimer’s population.

Philip Scheltens, MD, PhD, a neurologist and neurosurgeon at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, is board vice chair for Deltaplan Dementie, the Dutch national plan. Three years ago the Netherlands became the third European Union nation, after the United Kingdom and France, to adopt one.

“Being Dutch, we wanted something unique,” Scheltens said. Its name harks back to the Deltawerken, a series of dams, levees, and barriers constructed a half century ago to protect the Netherlands’ low-lying areas following the North Sea flood of 1953.

The idea “is not to build a dyke against dementia, but to make it treatable and manageable,” Scheltens said. The three pillars of Deltaplan Dementie include 1) a research and innovation program called Memorabel, which has received €32.5 million n government funding over the next four years; 2) improvement of the Dutch health-care system to enable patients to live at  home as long as possible with the proper care and support; and 3) social innovation towards building a more dementia-friendly society.

BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Haller also addressed the group. “Tonight is a special occasion for us, bringing together our friends and leading Alzheimer’s researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S.,” she said, with the goal of “accelerating discovery through new beneficial partnerships.”

Describing  BrightFocus’ mission, she said: “In the past three years alone, we have invested over $27 million in new scientific research, and are currently managing 150 scientific projects around the world, including clinical trials.”

Learn about Alzheimer’s research BrightFocus is funding.

Speaking for herself and ISAO Manager-Director, Dr. Marc J.M. Petit, Haller reminded the crowd that it remains an essential mission of both organizations to furnish the seed money that helps researchers pursue the most promising ideas.

In tough funding times, international collaborations offer much opportunity, she added, and by working together, we can do more. After all, good ideas travel our planet at the speed of light.