Last week, the government set out how it planned to spend a $50-million top-up to this year’s funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, announced in February as part of a bid to “prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025”.

Of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease — which ranks sixth — is particularly devastating in that there is no cure, no way to prevent it and no proven way to slow its progression. And with at least 11 million Americans expected to have the disease by the middle of the century (see ‘Degeneration generation’) — boosting the annual costs of health care to more than US$1 trillion — the US government is anxiously looking to researchers to improve the prognosis.

“We really have all the pieces we need to move forward in the development of effective therapeutics,” says Paul Aisen, a neuro­scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study — a 21-year-old programme of government-funded clinical studies aimed at developing Alzheimer’s treatments. “The missing piece right now is the money.”

The first test of a follow-up will come later this year as Congress wrestles over the administration’s 2013 budget request for the NIH. Included in the request is an additional $80 million for Alzheimer’s research. Proponents say that a failure to adequately fund research today will only lead to higher costs later.