Funders Kickstart Research into Another Form of Dementia

The brain is drawing increasing amounts of philanthropic dollars these days, both for basic science and to develop treatments for brain-related conditions, like mental illness and dementia. Sometimes the gifts reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, enough to boggle the mind they're meant to study. And sometimes grants are comparatively modest, but more narrowly focusedlike the latest $10 million just recently announced to develop new drugs for the brain disorder frontotemporal degeneration (FTD).

Unless you know one of the 50,000 people in the U.S. with FTD, you may not have heard of this condition. Like Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases and types of dementia, FTD damage nerve cells in the brain. The disease's three subtypes leading variously to deterioration in behavior and  personality, language, or motor and muscle function, depending on which region of the brain is struck.

And like other forms of dementia, FTD can't be cured or significantly slowed. This new $10 million commitment, through the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation and the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, will fund investigation into new drugs, as well as repurposed existing drugs. The organizations say the newly created Treat FTD Fund will build on recent successes at both foundations in early-stage drug discovery and biomarker development as they move into clinical trials.

The gift is a co-grant from the Lauder Foundation and the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation (each gave $5 million.) The Lauder brothers-Leonard and Ronaldfounded the ADDF to speed development of therapies for Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia. Meanwhile, their partner in this new effort, Donald Newhouse, has close family members who suffer from FTD.

This $10 million is a tidy sum, which will mean a lot for the researchers who can advance their studies because of it, but it's unlikely on its own to pay for what is likely to be a long and expensive road. The players here acknowledge that a key goal is to encourage more funders to invest in the search for treatments for FTD and other neurodegenerative conditions.

There is, though, plenty of reason for optimism. New brain-imaging technology is transforming the field, and scientists say that the next decade is sure to bring important advances in basic understanding of the brain. The hope, of course, is that it will drive similar progress in treating its disorders.

From a national and global economic perspective, funders can't spend enough on brain-related research and health. As we've reported, one study suggests that in less than 15 years, depression alone will become society's most expensive health care issue. Meanwhile, in places like the U.S., an aging population will likely see increased numbers of patients with dementia. It bears repeating: there are zero effective treatments.