Scientists gathered on March 1 in Bethesda, Maryland, for the 2018 NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit, ready to absorb the 82 presentations scheduled over two days. Then a nor’easter forced closure of U.S. government buildings and put the kibosh on Day 2. Even so, researchers seemed impressed by the summit. Scientists interacted across disciplines with colleagues whom they might not otherwise meet, and the NIH took away 75 pages of funding recommendations for future research. “There were a lot of interesting ideas, from basic science to clinical studies,” said Marco Colonna, Washington University, St. Louis. “It was a bit overwhelming, but extremely valuable.”
This was the third AD research summit hosted by the NIH, as mandated by the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. Recommendations from the first two summits in 2012 and 2015 helped shape the NIA-funded research agenda. With the NIH budget for AD and related disorders almost tripling to $1.414 billion in the last three years, the third summit has the potential to make a major impact on the field. As NIH Director Francis Collins emphasized in his opening address, this is a critical time in Alzheimer’s research. “Any notion that a quick path to prevention or treatment was going to emerge from 2012 … has turned out to be naïve,” Collins said. But he noted that the field knows more than in 2012 and urged leaders to bring boldness, audacious optimism, and a readiness to consider dramatic new approaches to the problem.
The first day of the summit outlined some of those approaches. Organized by Suzana Petanceska and Laurie Ryan of the National Institute on Aging, the summit was to cover seven themes:
- Novel Mechanistic Insights into the Complex Biology and Heterogeneity of AD
- Enabling Precision Medicine for AD
- Translational Tools and Infrastructure for Predictive Drug Development
- Emerging Therapeutics
- Understanding the Impact of the Environment to Advance Disease Prevention
- Advances in Disease Monitoring, Assessment, and Care
- Building an Open Science Research Ecosystem to Accelerate AD Therapy Development.
Theme sessions featured three to four 15-minute talks followed by five-minute, one-slide summaries of related topics by up to nine selected panelists, leaving little time for Q&A or debate. The cancelled second day will be rescheduled soon, NIH staff said.
Big data and precision medicine dominated the day, building on plenary talks by Eric Schadt from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Los Angeles, and Joni Rutter of the NIH. Rutter gave an update on the All of Us research program, formerly called the Precision Medicine Initiative cohort. It plans to gather data on 1 million Americans as a foundation to enable precision medicine, or medical treatment and care tailored to individual patients. So far, 16,500 participants have enrolled. They have provided medical histories and agreed to share medical records and give blood, urine, and saliva for future analysis. The program hopes to eventually incorporate behavior and lifestyle data, including information from wearable devices.