KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Fairway has its national designation renewed

A rare gathering of the state's top federal elected officials attended the KU Alzheimer's Center announcement. (From left) Sen. Jerry Moran, Rep. Kevin Yoder and Sen. Pat Roberts.
A rare gathering of the state’s top federal elected officials attended the KU Alzheimer’s Center announcement. (From left) Sen. Jerry Moran, Rep. Kevin Yoder and Sen. Pat Roberts.

The renewal of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center designation as one of 31 national research centers studying the dreaded disease attracted a rare gathering of the state’s top federal elected officials Thursday.

U.S. Senators Pat Robert and Jerry Moran, and U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder attended the event held at KU research center’s offices at 4350 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Fairway.

“We’re fortunate to have this facility and these brilliant researchers right here on Shawnee Mission Parkway,” Yoder told the audience.

The Alzheimer’s Center received its initial national designation from the National Institue on Aging in 2011. The five-year renewal will bring an additional $8.5 million in funding.

Russell Swerdlow, MD, director of the center, said the facility has supported more than 100 investigators over the past five years. They have done more than 80 studies with more than 800 clinical trial participants.

“Renewing our national designation will allow us to continue to bring top-flight scientists to the area, lead the way on clinical care and grow our research team,” he said.

According to the National Institute for Health, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans. There is no proven cure to or treatment to delay its progression. The disease claimed 85,000 lives in 2013 and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

“What a great day it will be in this country when we find that thing that delays the occurrence and the onset of Alzheimer’s,” Moran said.

Roberts noted that while there are no FDA approved drugs yet to stop or slow down the disease, there are 17 now in the advanced testing phase.

“We’re at a critical point in research,” he said. “Help is coming.”

One of those people waiting for treatment was in the audience.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, was there with his wife, Stephene, to applaud the progress being made at the KU research facility.

“My wife and I have been working on this for some time now,” Moore said. “It’s not a disease anybody would wish for. I’m hopeful we’ll find a better treatment and find a cure.”

The KU Alzheimer’s Center is focused on how metabolism affects the disease, according to a press release from KU. It’s examining how altering metabolism and cell energy, either through drugs or other interventions, such as exercise and lifestyle changes, can change the course of the disease.

“We are leading the prevention field in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jeffrey Burns, MD, co-director of the center, “and now, we are preparing to take it into the community with more awareness and more tools for physicians managing dementia care.”

Yoder noted that despite the hyper-partisan climate in Washington these days, both parties have come together to increase funding for the National Insitutes of Health.

“At a time when we’re more divided as ever, we can come together and get something done,” he said.