Tackling Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Spring 2011

Canadians are living longer, and that’s good news. But there’s a downside. As health researchers and doctors have brought most infectious diseases in this country under control, they have switched their focus to the chronic, non-communicable diseases that become increasingly prevalent in an aging population. Enter John C.S. Breitner, the inaugural holder of the newly created Pfizer Canada Professorship in the Prevention of Dementia, charged with tackling one of Canada’s most complex medical challenges.

“Dementia is already a public health crisis, one that could take on catastrophic proportions in the coming decades if we don’t find a way to prevent it,” says Breitner.

John C.S. Brietner; Photo Credit: Owen Egan.

By 2050, projections suggest that more than 1.3 million Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of dementia, up from 460,600 today. A new case emerges in Canada every five minutes. The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that the economic burden of dementia will double every decade, increasing from $15 billion in 2008 to $153 billion in 2038.

Breitner, who joined McGill in August 2010, trained at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins. Currently Director of the Centre for Studies on the Prevention of Alzheimer’s at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, he previously headed the University of Washington’s Division of Geriatric Psychiatry and directed the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

The new professorship, created with a generous gift of $2 million from Pfizer Canada and a substantial investment from McGill, will support Professor Breitner’s work in identifying and measuring signs of dementia before symptoms appear and in testing treatments that slow its progression. The Pfizer professorship was unveiled at an event held December 7 at McGill’s Life Sciences Complex, during which Vice-Principal of Health Affairs and Dean of Medicine Richard I. Levin talked of the challenge of entering unmapped scientific territory.

“McGill is recognized internationally in Alzheimer’s and age-related diseases, and with this additional and generous support from Pfizer Canada, we are eager to break new ground,” said Levin.

[Abby Nichols]

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