Could Alzheimer’s Disease Be Caused by a Germ?


One doctor believes it may be possible, and he’s offering a million dollars to any researcher who produces persuasive evidence in the next three years.
Could the way we treat Alzheimer’s change dramatically in the near future? Getty Images
Scientists are scrambling to find the mysterious source of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). But what if it’s not that mysterious? What if it’s caused by a germ?
That’s what infectious disease specialist Dr. Leslie Norins can’t stop wondering — so much so that he’s created a public benefit corporation, Alzheimer’s Germ Quest Inc. (AGQ).
The organization is offering any researcher who produces persuasive evidence of an AD “bug” an eye-popping $1 million challenge award.
“I’m not ‘guessing’ that AD is caused by a germ,” Norins clarified. “I am only saying it might be, and there is so much death and suffering at stake that we need to find out, one way or another.”
What we know — and don’t know — about Alzheimer’s
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans are currently living with AD.
Every 65 seconds, another devastating diagnosis is made and by mid-century, the condition is expected to become even more common: Someone will learn they have AD every 33 seconds.
It’s an unforgiving condition, one which slowly dismantles both thinking and memory. And so far, there’s no way to prevent AD, cure it, or even permanently slow the progression of its symptoms.
The disease was first discovered in 1906, when Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered shrunken nerve cells in the postmortem brain of a patient who had suffered from memory loss. Still, awareness of the condition didn’t begin in earnest until the 1980s.
In the decades since, scientists have made some key discoveries — that there’s a genetic component, for instance, and lifestyle factors like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and an active social life may offer some protection.
Yet the root cause (or causes) of AD remain elusive.
The most popular theory is still “plaques and tangles.”
Beta-amyloid is a protein that’s broken down and flushed out in healthy brains. But in people with AD, this protein hardens into a plaque that prevents the brain’s nerve cells from working like they should.Also gumming up the works are fibers of another protein called tau, which transport nutrients between brain cells. In people with AD, they’re inexplicably tangled.