No One Cares About Research Funding

To a first approximation no-one cares about research funding. No-one cares until it is too late, until their life depends upon a cure or at least a treatment that doesn't yet exist. The vast majority of people are focused on circuses and distractions among the possibilities that presently exist, not on the creation of new possibilities. Just look at the ocean of funding for sports, politics, and war in comparison to the small drops of funding for medical research.

Among the comparatively small class of people who do care about research funding, most of these individuals care because they are in business and the existence of competitors forces them onto the rat wheel of progress. They don't care because they want to produce specific end results, they care because they have to organize research in order to keep up and defend their business. That feels like a rat wheel when you are on the inside, since all of your competitors have wheels of their own and are rarely far behind, tomorrow's board meeting will be much the same as today's regardless of how fast you run, and success on the wheel just means the chance to run again later. From the outside these are the true engines of progress, however, racing ahead to give us ever better products and services - including ever-better medicine.

But this is why we have patient advocacy, in which the small number of people with greater foresight, those who do care about medical research funding because they have looked ahead and understand enough of a field to know what is plausible, try to convince those with lesser foresight of the need for action.

At present research into aging and longevity receives a pittance in funding, private or public, in comparison to any sensible yardstick. People simply don't care to do anything about degenerative aging, and this prevalent attitude is reflected at the large scale in funding levels for various activities. Where there is a will to act and work on ways to treat aging, it is driven by iconoclasts, heretics, and visionaries: the sensible few, not the comfortably conformist many.

Yet it isn't just longevity research in which researchers can bemoan the fact that their field is unjustly the poor cousin in the broader field of medicine, receiving next to nothing in comparison to its great importance. While more than 90% of the Western world suffers and dies due to aging, only a fraction of existing medical research funding goes towards doing anything about this, and even then all existing medical research funding is but a fraction of the funds spent on either (a) idle pastimes, or (b) cleaning up after the consequences of aging. This is the common condition for anyone involved in medical research of any sort, and even the most mainstream of institutions working on diseases of aging can point out that they too are neglected in comparison to their importance:

Alzheimer's Is Expensive, Deadly and Growing. So Where's the Research Money?

"The epidemic is upon us," says Dr. John Trojanowski, co-director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and director of the Institute on Aging, both at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "It's a very difficult thing to say to a patient that there's nothing we have for you, but that is the honest response. There are no disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer's."

Alzheimer's is one of the costliest chronic diseases to the country. Total costs of caring for Americans with Alzheimer's and other dementias is expected to reach $214 billion this year, with Medicare and Medicaid covering $150 billion and out-of-pocket expenses reaching $36 billion.

Historically, Alzheimer's research has been grossly underfunded. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) dedicated $5.3 billion to cancer research in 2013, nearly $3 billion to HIV/AIDS, $1.2 billion to heart disease and $1 billion to diabetes. Alzheimer's research received just over $500 million.

"I believe that this disease will be the defining medical condition of our generation--hopefully not the next generation," says Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and chair of the Advisory Council for NAPA. "If we don't get on top of it, it will bankrupt the health-care system."

As is the style of the press these days the article above focuses on public funding and its grandstanding political theater rather than the larger and arguably more important body of private research funding. The public funding numbers might seem large, but they are only a fraction of the valuation of the bubblegum industry or any single large sports franchise, of which there are many. But as I said above, to a first approximation no-one cares about research funding. If they did a great many problems would perhaps already be solved.


Perhaps even more unfortunate is the likelihood that Alzheimers has an 'easy' cure, compared to cancer. There's likely only a small number of root causes in Alzheimers, wheras there's countless different versions and types of cancers. I'd expect Alzheimers to be cured or highly treatable long before most cancers are.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at April 11th, 2014 3:39 PM

I think this highlights the failure of acceptance of the regenerative medicine approach to diseases of aging. Comments made by the public at the article even suggest as much

"Research funds need to be diverted from those areas and be used instead for the study of what chemical, virus, or other agent is responsible for triggering the formation of the plaques in the brain.".

Removal of Amyloid beta is already possible. From what I've learned there is a company called Prothena working on Lewy Bodies and another,TauRX, working on tangles. Whether or not the mechanisms are sound I do not know. This is what people like Mr Rogan should be focusing on.

Posted by: Michael at April 13th, 2014 12:58 AM

This is the kind of thing that should be appreciated


Posted by: Michael at April 14th, 2014 11:51 PM
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