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Is Alzheimer's An Infectious Disease? 'Germ' Theory Of Alzheimer's Regaining Momentum

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Is Alzheimer's caused by germs? A physician thinks that looking into the longstanding theory might be the key to understanding the disease.

The Alzheimer's Germ Theory

The theory that Alzheimer's — the most common type of dementia, which, to this day, still has no cure — might be caused by a virus or a bacteria that has been around for quite some time. There have been several previous studies linking the disease to bacterial or viral infections, but none were conclusive.

Leslie Norins, a physician, is encouraging more research into the theory that infection is causing dementia. In January, he launched the Alzheimer's Germ Quest, a challenge that will yield $1 million to whoever finds the "germ" that causes the dilapidating disease affecting millions of people around the world.

"Researchers are finding increasing evidence that Alzheimer's is an infection caused by a germ — bacterium, virus, parasite, fungus, or prion," the Alzheimer's Germ Quest, Inc. said on its website. "Yet there has not so far been a thorough search for a causative microbe for AD."

Norins launched the public benefit corporation in 2017 in order to drive interest in the theory that Alzheimer's is caused by a germ. He has been reviewing scientific literature about Alzheimer's for two years and noticed a pattern.

"It appeared that many of the reported characteristics of Alzheimer's disease were compatible with an infectious process," he said in a recent conversation with NPR. "From a two-year review of the scientific literature, I believe it's now clear that just one germ — identity not yet specified, and possibly not yet discovered — causes most AD. I'm calling it the 'Alzheimer's Germ."

In Search Of The Alzheimer's Germ

The theory that Alzheimer's is caused by a germ is already gaining traction. In July, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, in collaboration with Norins, announced a $50,000 grant to look into microbial association with the disease.

A recent study published in June also suggested that viral infection can interact with brain cells and affect the progression of dementia.

The discovery of the Alzheimer's germ, if it does exist, would be groundbreaking. In the future, people could be taking vaccines to prevent contracting the disease or antibiotics to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Germ Quest is taking submissions until Dec. 31, 2020. Winners will be announced by March 31, 2021.

The Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that every three seconds, one person is diagnosed with dementia around the world. The organization predicts that by 2030, 74.7 million people will be grappling with the disease. That is almost double of the number of people worldwide living with dementia in 2015.

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