AHA, Paul Allen commit $43 million to improving brain health

By American Heart Association News

Graphic of head and brain

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association are leading a $43 million push to find the best research idea – or ideas – to improve brain health and cognitive impairment science.

The AHA-Allen initiative in brain health and cognitive impairment, announced Thursday, will seek creative, transformative concepts. The best idea will be funded for eight years; if several ideas merit pursuit, multiple projects will share the resources.

The deadline for researcher proposals is July 6. The narrow timeframe underscores both the urgency of this need and the initiative’s goal of launching a novel idea that’s perhaps been on hold because of its uniqueness.

Healthy aging is a major issue. Thanks to advances in science and medicine, people are living for more years, but further work is needed to ensure that those are good years. Cognitive issues interrupt quality of life far too often.

More than 5.7 million Americans currently live with a diagnosis of one of the most common forms of dementia. That number is expected to nearly triple by 2050.

By 2040, forms of dementia are projected to be at least a $500 billion drag on the health care system, and that’s not counting the personal, emotional toll.

The Frontiers Group and the AHA offer a powerful base in the search for answers.

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of the Allen Institute, was founded by philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The AHA has invested more than $4.1 billion into researching cardiovascular diseases, making it the nation’s largest nonprofit funder of heart disease and stroke research.

“Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive ailments have become an enormous emotional and economic burden for our society,” said Tom Skalak, executive director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, in a news release. “This new American Heart Association-Allen initiative will create new bridges and collaborations between researchers and physicians, ultimately leading to better understanding and treatment of these cognitive disorders.”

The research community focused on these issues has morphed into two sides, with some focusing on neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s) and others focused on cerebrovascular diseases (such as stroke). This initiative seeks to be a bridge linking both communities.

The framework of the new initiative is similar to One Brave Idea, a $75 million research enterprise the AHA launched in 2016 in an attempt to take a big swing at heart disease.

That project began with AHA CEO Nancy Brown and Andy Conrad, CEO of Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), talking about the need to do something radically different from the traditional method of research funding – which divvied money to multiple projects that might yield incremental gains.

Both One Brave Idea and this cognitive impairment initiative are rooted in the same philosophy: Finding new ways to solve old problems.

“Bridging vascular and brain science through innovative research will help scientists shed new light on the causes or contributors to cognitive impairment and dementia,” Brown said in a news release. “The American Heart Association-Allen initiative in brain health and cognitive impairment represents a major step forward to better understand how our brains age and is part of the Association’s ongoing commitment to understand how vascular health impacts brain health and overall well-being.”

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