The Need to Address Diseases and Disorders of the Brain

The Complex Human Brain

07.31.13 | By Preet Bilinski

The human brain, despite weighing just 3 pounds, contains over 100 billion neurons -- to say that it's complex is an understatement. These neurons are responsible for receiving messages and forwarding them to the appropriate parts of the brain, which in turn control everything we do. Considering the millions of tiny actions that make up just one day of your life, we may underappreciate just how much the brain can do for a person until something happens to it.

With more than 600 neurological disorders that strike millions of Americans each year, there is a widespread need to address diseases and disorders of the brain, ranging from well-known disorders such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, to more obscure conditions such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Friedreich's ataxia.

Neurological disorders can display an array of frustrating symptoms that affect our most basic functions, including thought, behavior, memory and speech. In addition to inflicting great pain on millions of patients and their families, brain disorders cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually. On a personal, psychological and economic level, neurological disorders present an enormous challenge.

Thankfully, America’s biopharmaceutical research companies are developing 444 new medicines to prevent and treat neurological disorders, according to a new report. These potential medicines are diverse in scope, and are currently in human clinical trials or under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They include:

  • 82 medicines for Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts more than 5 million Americans
  • 82 for pain – 100 million U.S. adults experience chronic pain
  • 62 for brain tumors – nearly 70,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumor
  • 38 for multiple sclerosis, which afflicts an estimated 500,000 Americans
  • 25 for headache, including migraine, a condition that affects more than 37 million Americans
  • 28 for epilepsy and seizures, which impacts more than 3 million Americans
  • 27 for Parkinson’s disease, which affects as many as 1million Americans

These 444 medicines in development represent novel, exciting scientific approaches  to target complex diseases, such as a gene therapy to restore neuronal function in Alzheimer’s patients, targeted therapies for neuromuscular disorders and gene therapy to restore cells damaged in Parkinson’s patients.

Current research has the potential to increase the quality of life and delay cognitive decline for patients diagnosed with neurological disorders, which is no small feat. For example, scientists are beginning to understand more about the genes that affect the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Such discoveries could lead to new research pathways to help find a way to slow, delay or reverse the effects of the disease.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a treatment that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could reduce the cost of care for the disease by $447 billion a year in 2050.

We still have much to learn about this complex organ and its workings, but scientific advances are helping to provide a greater understanding of the brain. Most importantly, the latest Medicines in Development report shows that for patients affected by neurological disorders, there is hope in the pipeline.

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