Why it’s important to make the 21st century Cures Act a law

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

President Obama called on members of the U.S. Senate to vote in support of the 21st Century Cures Act, saying “we should seize every chance we have to find cures as soon as possible.” Congress has listened. The legislation sailed through the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, and President Obama is poised to sign the bill into law. I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased.

The 21st Century Cures Act covers a lot of ground in terms of improving and modernizing our health system, including giving researchers the resources they need to identify ways to treat, cure and prevent all kinds of brain disorders — anything from Alzheimer’s to epilepsy to traumatic brain injury and more.

To do so, the bill lays important groundwork to speed the process from scientific discovery to health treatments and cures for people who need them. 

To put it simply, this is a big deal. 

According to the National Science Foundation, the United States is the world leader in medical innovations. We invest the most in research and development, produce the most advanced degrees in science and engineering and high-impact scientific publications, and remain the largest provider of information, financial and business services in the world. Despite advances in biomedical and pharmaceutical research, it typically takes 20 to 40 years or more for the resulting scientific discoveries to trickle down to benefit human lives in a meaningful way. And for the 10,000 known diseases, there are only 500 treatments and cures.

Patients and families impacted by the remaining diseases – especially those involving the brain – shouldn’t have to wait that long. We need to be doing everything in our power to ensure that novel programs are delivered to the public as quickly as possible. To that end, the 21st Century Cures Act is a big step in the right direction.

Thanks to neuroscience research and technological advances, today we know the brain continues to grow and change and retains the capacity to be repaired throughout our lives, putting to rest outdated conventional wisdom that viewed the brain as static, fixed and unalterable. New brain cells are made, new connections can be formed and old connections strengthened, moment by moment, in response to new experiences and new learning.

What this means is that there is hope for the people and families impacted by the remaining 9,500 diseases that are brain related. There’s also hope for people suffering from brain injury and/or illness not included in this figure. 

The brain can even rewire systems long after an injury, after a brain setback, such as after chemotherapy, or in the early stages of brain diseases like Alzheimer's – if the right intervention is applied. And especially if that intervention is applied in a timely manner.

You see, for people suffering from brain injury or disease, every day makes a difference. That fact, combined with frustration over the huge time lag between scientific discovery and applications that benefit patients, drove me to found the Center for BrainHealth (CBH) at The University of Texas at Dallas in 1999. Since then, our interdisciplinary team of cognitive neuroscientists, physicians, rehabilitation specialists and neuroimaging experts has been developing, testing and scientifically proving protocols to strengthen the brain while healthy – and repair it after the onset of an injury or disease. 

Our research and programs are helping people regain brain function even years after serious injury or illness. They are restoring hope and showing us that not only is more medical innovation necessary, but collaborative programs, to ensure that innovation turns the corner to produce real results and change lives, are critical. 

The belief that our research findings should have an immediate and beneficial clinical impact, so that we can change lives for the better now, not a generation from now, is a guiding principle at the Center for BrainHealth. 

I believe that same spirit has led to massive collaboration, resulting in the 21st Century Cures Act, which is now so close to becoming law. It’s so close to improving an outdated system, to changing lives and, hopefully, even to saving them. 

As a researcher who has dedicated more than three decades to understanding, protecting and restoring brain health, I know passage of this legislation will make a huge difference in people's lives. I look forward to seeing it signed into law and to the seeing the tremendous benefits I know will come as a result.

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