Parliament urges joint EU action on neurodegenerative diseases

The European Parliament (EP) on 12 November adopted a resolution supporting the pan-European coordination of research on neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The ultimate goal is to combine funding, skills and knowledge, and to capitalise on the efforts being carried out across the EU.

Latest data show that the number of people in Europe diagnosed with Alzheimer's and related diseases tops the 7 million mark. What is of even greater concern is that experts believe this number will double within the next decade. What makes further research on these diseases imperative is the fact that no cures are available, and knowledge about prevention and treatment is limited.

The growing number of patients will burn bigger holes in European pockets as well. The cost of caring for one patient alone amounts to EUR 21,000, and in 2005, the total cost of treating these patients was almost EUR 1.3 billion in the EU.

The resolution approved by the Parliament calls on the 27 EU Member States to establish a common research agenda in the field of neurodegenerative diseases and to strengthen epidemiological data on Alzheimer's and related dementia disorders.

The following actions are needed to put a lid on these diseases: carrying out early diagnostic tests, conducting research into risk factors (e.g. environment), and identifying criteria for early diagnosis.

For their part, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have expressed their wish to see transnational cooperation on extensive epidemiological and clinical studies come to fruition, and the emergence of a multidisciplinary approach comprising prevention, diagnosis, treatment and social research.

The resolution outlines that research should investigate the connection between the ageing process and dementia, as well as the link between depression in older people and dementia. High on the research agenda should be prevention, early diagnosis and standard diagnostic tools, and comprehensive databases.

The MEPs are also advising that the Commission include the problems of dementia in all EU disease prevention measures. Member States, the MEPs say, should endorse 'brain-healthy' lifestyles. They add that the creation of a 'European Year of the Brain' is needed in order to fuel understanding of brain-related diseases that are linked with ageing.

Bureaucratic procedures should be kept to a minimum in the pilot project, according to Parliament. Cooperation between the pilot project members and industry is important so as to ensure that all resources and skills are used to everyone's advantage.

MEPs also underline that all future initiatives on joint research activities must be adopted under the EU's legal competency for research so that Parliament has co-decision powers following the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.

MEPs have highlighted how Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dependency and it is imperative that political commitment is ensured in the areas of research, prevention and social protection.

Parliament's resolution follows the same line as the Commission, which urged Member States in July 2009 to pool their resources and improve research coordination efforts for the fight against Alzheimer's and other related diseases. The Commission's proposals followed a 2008 recommendation by the Council of the European Union for the launching of the joint programming initiative.

"We want to help research play a bigger role in tackling such societal challenges as Alzheimer's and related disorders," EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said last summer. "This is an opportunity for European science and a response to a challenge of our modern society."

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said earlier this year: "Losing mental capacity to dementia is not just a normal part of getting older. As the European population ages, we must work together to better understand and prevent these conditions. We must show our solidarity to people with dementia by sharing best practice in caring for them, and respecting their rights and dignity."

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