A new and worthy advocate just joined the fight for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Bill Gates revealed in an interview with CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjany Gupta that he will be contributing $50 million dollars to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a private-public research partnership focused on curing Alzheimer’s disease. Gates revealed that he had spent a year investigating and talking to scientists to discern how to advance treatment of the disease rather than just of the symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion. His efforts affirmed that funding for research which targeted a treatment for the disease would best accelerate efforts to eliminate its devastating effects.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, first identified the disease in 1906 after performing an autopsy on the brain of a patient who suffered from memory loss, severe paranoia and other brain changes. It took another 80 years for scientists to identify the deposits Dr. Alzheimer observed around the nerve cells in his patient’s brain: build-ups of the proteins amyloid and tau. While these proteins are naturally occurring in healthy brains, in a brain with Alzheimer’s the proteins malfunction, clumping and tangling together to block the brain cell’s messaging pathways. In the diseased brain, the neural highway is obstructed and the brain cells can no longer communicate. Recent technological advancements can now reveal that these brain changes begin years before someone exhibits any symptoms of personality changes or memory loss. Dr. James Hendrix, leader of the Alzheimer Association’s Global Science Innovation team, sees these developments as a “game-changer” in finding the right therapeutics to target the disease. According to Dr. Hendrix, treatment of a healthy brain at the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s is essential because it is very difficult to repair the damage once it’s done.
Likewise, Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard focusing on Alzheimer’s research, credits imaging advancements as essential to understanding the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. He notes, however, that these advancements have not lead to an effective treatment before symptoms appear. Dr. Tanzi advocates early detection and intervention as necessary for effective treatment.
To advance these goals, Bill Gates hopes to motivate new research, combining what is currently known with new thinking about potential approaches. Hopefully his focus on prevention will eliminate the suffering of millions in the not too distant fut