Leading researchers from across Europe will gather today in Stockholm to develop a European-wide research strategy to tackle neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons Disease.
This is the first of the new European Union (EU) Joint Programming initiatives which are designed to address what are called grand challenges facing EU society in the coming years. These challenges are considered beyond the scope and resources of any one country to tackle. However, the EU hopes to maximise its potential to confront these common challenges from publicly funded research by bringing together the funding bodies, the researchers, the existing research evidence, and sharing tools, techniques and other resources amongst member states more efficiently.
Recently appointed European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn says:
‘This is the first example of the new Joint Programming approach by the EU to tackling the health-related, social, technological, and environmental "grand challenges" which face all of our citizens. Thanks to this Joint Programme, the best European medical researchers will be working together and pooling resources to help the millions of people who suffer from Alzheimers and other neurodenegerative diseases. By making research more efficient and avoiding duplication of work, the Joint Programme will increase the prospects of real progress in preventing and treating these diseases. The lessons learned from this Joint Programme will then be used to inform research efforts in other areas.
Neurodegenerative disease will be the first area to benefit from this new approach, with particular emphasis on Alzheimers disease. Neurodegenerative diseases are strongly linked with age and Europe has a rapidly ageing population. Currently, 16% of the European population is over 65, and this figure is expected to reach 25% by 2030. In 2006, it was estimated that neurodegenerative diseases cost European health services approximately 72 billion to treat. Existing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases are limited, and mainly treat the symptoms, rather than addressing the cause. Alzheimers disease is particularly expensive to manage due to its insidious onset, its ever-increasing levels of disability and the length of time over which the condition extends itself. The average duration of this disease is between 2 and 10 years, during which patients will require special care that is a significant burden for both caregivers and for society as a whole.
The ultimate goal of the Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease (JPND) is to accelerate progress in understanding the causes of these debilitating conditions, leading to not only early diagnosis, and the development of new treatments and prevention, but also the provision of more effective medical and social care to improve the quality of life for patients and care givers.
To achieve this goal, 25 European countries, sharing a common vision, have voluntarily decided to work together in an unprecedented collaborative initiative in research which is seeking to align their scientific competencies, medical strengths and social approaches to tackle the challenge.
Professor Philippe Amouyel, the Chair of the JPND Management Board says: Success relies on the shared view that pooling knowledge, infrastructure, funding calls, as well as creating critical mass with coherent, multidisciplinary approaches, will deliver the best scientific objectives and answers. By doing this we will optimise research investment in neurodegenerative disease across Europe.
The JPND will start by:
- developing a strategic research agenda for neurodegenerative diseases encompassing basic, clinical and social research, and the latter also includes models of healthcare delivery.
- implementing that agenda by proposing innovative ways of pooling expertise and resources to address the fragmentation and duplication of current research efforts.
A Scientific Advisory Board comprising 15 of the top neurodegenerative disease scientists from Europe and elsewhere in the world has been formed to advise on the development of the Strategic Research Agenda and its implementation. This group begins its work today.
Professor Amouyel adds:
This is an exciting opportunity for Europe to take the lead in tackling one of the biggest socio-economic challenges we face into our future. To date, neurodegenerative diseases have not received the same level of funding as other areas such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, despite having a large negative impact on healthy life. This programme will allow us to change that and get to grips with this issue in a timely and strategic manner. Todays meeting in Stockholm will see fifteen of the leading researchers from Europe and elsewhere begin the process of mapping out a strategy to best achieve this pan-European co-ordinated research approach.
List of the 25 participating countries (as of 26 April 2010)
Albania, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom
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