Alzheimer’s initiative receives $250,000 from state of Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs Senate Bill 14-211 into law on June 5, 2014

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs Senate Bill 14-211 into law on June 5, 2014

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The Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Alzheimer’s disease initiative received a big boost from the state of Colorado this year when Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill passed by the state legislature that allocates $250,000 to the first Alzheimer’s disease research & clinical center in Colorado.

Senate Bill 14-211 was approved 35-0 by the Colorado Senate and 62-3 by the Colorado House, and was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on June 5th. The state’s initial investment of $250,000 will be received in fiscal year 2014. “It is declared to be the policy of this state to achieve the maximum practical degree of care and treatment for persons suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases,” the bill states.

The success of the bill is credited to Governor Hickenlooper and bill co-sponsors Senator Michael Johnston, Senator David Balmer, Rep. Dickey Hullinghorst and Rep. Mark Waller.  A key issue for legislators is addressing the fact that Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in terms of Alzheimer’s disease as a percentage of the population. Currently, an estimated 200,000 people in Colorado and adjacent states have Alzheimer’s, at an estimated societal cost of $17 billion a year.

World Down Syndrome Day at the Colorado CapitolThe new Center is housed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. It is the first such center in a 600-mile radius of Denver and a much needed resource for families in the region.

Huntington Potter, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Center and was recruited by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, and the Department of Neurology at CU.

Potter is a renowned Alzheimer’s disease researcher who discovered the mechanistic relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome. Unfortunately, 100% of people with Down syndrome have the brain pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and an estimated 50% will develop dementia symptoms before age 50.

People with Down syndrome by definition are born with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two. People with Alzheimer’s disease have many cells with three copies of chromosome 21. As the amyloid precursor protein gene (APP) resides on chromosome 21, these trisomy 21 cells produce excess APP and its product, the Alzheimer beta peptide, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

Recognizing that these conditions are two sides of the same coin and studying them together will hasten the development of new treatments for both. The key is to discover why many people with Down syndrome and some people with typical age-related Alzheimer’s disease can have the pathology in the brain but not develop dementia.

“The support of our state leadership is crucial to ensuring this center’s success,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “but we will need broad-based community support as well. Global and CU have a daunting but important task in front of us – to raise awareness and endowed funds to ensure that people in this region with Alzheimer’s disease, including those with Down syndrome, can get the best care and participate in the best trials.”

The CU Department of Neurology has recruited Jonathan Woodcock, M.D., who has already seen close to 1,000 patients, including people with Down syndrome. Potter is also launching the Center’s first clinical trial looking at Leukine in people with early onset of Alzheimer’s disease after his lab discovered the protein that likely explains why people with rheumatoid arthritis rarely get Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our first goal is to create — within the next three years — a comprehensive, nationally recognized Alzheimer’s disease patient care center and research institute that will serve the people of Colorado and surrounding states,” Potter said.

To this end, Potter has submitted a grant to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for recognition as an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center of excellence.

Currently, there are 27 NIA-designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers in the United States. An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that is expected to more than double by 2050. Annual costs related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias exceed $200 billion.

In 2013, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Linda Crnic Institute and the national Alzheimer’s Association established the Down Syndrome-Alzheimer’s Disease Investigator Program.  The program has funded $1.2 million in grants to investigators around the world.

Learn more about Global’s Alzheimer’s Initiatives.

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