Three years ago, ALZgerm challenged researchers to find a single infectious agent responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. The bait was $1 million. Results were announced on February 23; alas, nobody took home the grand prize. Instead, ALZgerm founder Leslie Norins split $200,000 among eight scientists who submitted incriminating arguments for six microbes. All six previously had been tied to neurodegenerative diseases with varying degrees of evidence.
Norins, a retired physician and medical editor, and his wife, Rainey, created ALZgerm to raise awareness of infectious diseases as a possible cause of AD and increase funding to this research area. In January 2018, they launched the Alzheimer’s Germ Quest challenge. “Our aim was not to fund long-term research, but to shake loose any discoveries that were virtually at hand or could be quickly realized,” Norins told Alzforum.
Eighty-three people answered the quirky call. Norins invited 40 to submit applications. Eight did, but nobody provided evidence that persuaded Norins of a single “Alzheimer’s germ.” Still, all received a prize. Ruth Itzhaki, University of Manchester, and Rima McCleod each got $35,000 for their treatises on Herpes and toxoplasma, respectively. Richard Lathe, University of Edinburgh, and Hugo Lövheim, Umeå University, Sweden, each netted $25,000 for their work on the Herpes virus. May Baydoun, National Institute on Aging, and Stephen Dominy, Cortexyme, San Francisco, were offered $25,000 for their theories on H. pylori and P. gingivalis, respectively. (Dominy declined the award). Alan MacDonald and C. Tom Dow, both retired, received $15,000 for their submissions on Borrelia and mycobacter, respectively.
Norins believes the challenge may have helped raise awareness of the role of microbes in AD. In 2018, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) Foundation established the Microbial Pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s Disease Grant, co-funded by ALZgerm, which has awarded more than $1.6 million to 18 researchers. In April 2019, the National Institute on Aging declared infectious diseases a high-priority research topic in AD, opening an R01 grant funding opportunity in January.
For his part, Norins has started speaking out about some practices in the field, most recently criticizing both the Alzheimer’s Association and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s for supporting Biogen’s pending marketing approval application for aducanumab without disclosing donations from the company.—Chelsea Weidman Burke
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