Several Health/Science writers have asked a question about the NIH Consensus Panel's conclusion that no strong evidence presently exists or strongly suggests that any efforts, interventions, or therapies-heretofore-have 'prevented' Alzheimer's disease.
Our response is: This is an accurate and reasonable assessment of the state-of-the-science based on published data.
The report by Williams et al. provide further evidence that a major paradigm shift is needed in the organization and conduct of Alzheimer's disease research as well as other brain diseases that affect memory, movement and mood. The authors' report concludes that while many observations have been reported about "risk" or "protective" factors, which may modulate disease onset, many of these findings lack consistency.
The report and the panel's conclusions will serve an extremely important function as "foundational context" for science writers (and the generally informed consumers of health news). The scientific community has known for sometime [and repeatedly cautioned the news media] that epidemiological studies finding correlation between various life experiences or interventions and putative beneficial effects are not indications for a cause and effect but rather merely indications for a trend that need to be validated in clinical trials.
Although the authors conclude that "further research" is needed, and imply that the launch of a clinical trials to test preventive-interventions may be premature, their work highlights the central question of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease by 2020 (PAD2020): How should research be re-organized such that society might have the capacity to reduce the prevalence of AD by 50% within the next 10 years?
PAD2020's primary focus is to go beyond the examination of why past efforts have failed, and thoroughly examine what is needed to actually achieve prevention of AD and other degenerative brain diseases. These efforts include evaluating the scientific, technical, administrative, legal, ethical and cultural barriers. Also, PAD2020 has begun a global exploration of the precise types of resources (financial, political and societal) needed to achieve the goal of disease prevention.