Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common neurodegenerative diseases. In the United States, as many as 6.2 million people may have Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report from the Alzheimer's Disease Association in 2022. Nearly a million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Neurodegenerative diseases occur when nerve cells in the brain or peripheral nervous system lose function over time and ultimately die. Although certain treatments may help relieve some of the physical or mental symptoms associated with neurodegenerative diseases, slowing their progression is not currently possible, and no cures exist.
The likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease rises dramatically with age. In the coming decades, more Americans may be affected by neurodegenerative diseases, especially as life expectancy increases. We must improve our understanding of what causes neurodegenerative diseases and develop new approaches for treatment and prevention.
Scientists recognize that the combination of a person’s genes and environment contributes to their risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. For example, someone might have a gene that makes them more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, but their environmental exposures can affect whether, when, and how severely they are affected.
Critical research entails examining exposures that may have occurred before a disease diagnosis and understanding their effects.
What Is NIEHS Doing?
NIEHS funds researchers who study how exposures to pesticides, pollution, and other contaminants affect neurodegeneration, either individually or in combination with specific genes.
NIEHS also provides funding for career development programs to support researchers and cultivate the next generation of leaders in the field.
Grant recipients study the following diseases:
- Parkinson's disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- Huntington's disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Motor neuron disease
Grant recipients study the following types of environmental factors:
- Pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides
- Metals (e.g., arsenic, lead, manganese)
- Chemicals used in industry or consumer products (e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs)
- Air pollution
- Biological factors (e.g., endotoxins produced by bacteria)
- Dietary and lifestyle factors (e.g., caffeine, tobacco smoke, dietary antioxidants)
Jonathan A. Hollander, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-15Durham, N.C. 27709