Neil Hunt: Funding for Alzheimer's research must be increased

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The Independent Online

It is not very often that scientists are prepared to stick their necks out and refer to research results as a "breakthrough". This is one of those very rare occasions when it is a word that really does fit the bill. The importance of the discovery of three new genes with an association with Alzheimer's disease in such a short space of time is significant.

The battle to defeat dementia is not going to be easily won, but this gives researchers a new way of looking at Alzheimer's disease and new targets for drug development. This in turn will hopefully take us some way along the path to establishing a cause and finding a cure for this devastating disease. The Alzheimer's Society welcomes this news, as will the 700,000 people in this country living with dementia, their carers and their families. What is important now is that the door that has been opened to us is not closed again because of a lack of investment in dementia research.

With the answers that have been provided by these studies come many questions. For example what exactly is the function of these genes in our cells and how does this contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease? Future research is now needed to ensure that answers are one day found. It currently takes around 20 years for scientific discoveries to be turned into treatments. This is far too long for families affected today.

News that an even larger genome study is in the pipeline is definitely welcome but this should be just the start. It is estimated that more than one million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years but the government provides eight times less funding for dementia research than for cancer research.

Much more needs to be invested in dementia research if we are to see the same advancements in dementia care and treatment as we have seen for cancer.

The British role in these developments demonstrates that the country is clearly not short of scientific talent. The Government now has a responsibility to ensure that this wealth of experience is matched by the necessary funding and a plan to ensure that the headlines of today translate into hope for tomorrow.

The writer is Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society