By Chris Adams

One of the main patient advocacy organizations for Alzheimer’s disease has played a big role in pushing for increased federal funding as well as doing its own research.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Dr. Heather Snyder, senior director for medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association, laid out the agenda her organization is pursuing in a way that complements the work of the National Institutes of Health and other researchers.

While “it truly is an exciting time in research,” it’s also vital that researchers don’t take their foot off the gas: “Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death – but it’s the only one in the top 10 we don’t currently have a way to stop, slow or prevent,” she said.

Right now, about 5.8 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s, and that is expected to rise to 14 million people by 2050. The number of people caring for those with Alzheimer’s is about 16 million.

Snyder (bio, Twitter) detailed the number of clinical trials now underway into Alzheimer’s drugs or devices. There are more than 350 trials in one of the three phases of clinical trial development.

The Alzheimer’s Association funds some projects itself, often those that might benefit from a quick infusion of cash. Jump-starting such research allows new ideas to flourish before they might qualify for NIH funds.

One important study from recent years was known as the SPRINT MIND Study, which the association has supported. The study was the first randomized clinical trial to demonstrate that intensive treatment to reduce blood pressure can significantly reduce the occurrence of mild cognitive impairment.

SPRINT MIND aggressively managed hypertension and found a statistically significant 19 percent lower rate of new cases of mild cognitive impairment.

“That’s huge – that’s incredible,” she said.

The study will continue to focus specifically on dementia, since the study’s outcome on reducing risk of dementia was not definitive.