The Quest to Find the “Alzheimer’s Germ”

Eight final honorees will divide $200,000 for meritorious entries in Alzheimer’s Germ Quest’s “$1 Million Challenge”, which lasted three years, ending December 31, 2020, says Leslie Norins, MD, PhD, FIDSA. However, nobody provided persuasive-enough evidence that a particular infectious agent was the sole cause of Alzheimer’s disease, so the grand prize of $1 million will not be awarded.

The challenge initially attracted 81 would-be entrants, of whom 40 were authorized to submit formal entries. Eight researchers did so.

The finalists were Ruth Itzhaki, Manchester; Hugo Lovheim, Umea, Sweden; Richard Lathe, Edinburgh; Rima McCleod, Chicago, Tom Dowd, Wisconsin; Alan MacDonald, Naples; May Bedoun, Baltimore, and Steven Dominy, San Francisco.

Six microorganisms were nominated: herpes, toxoplasma, Borrelia, mycobacteria, H. pylori, and P. gingivalis.

Norins believes that plausible evidence submitted incriminating six different organisms means no one convincingly proved their nominee was the sole microbe triggering Alzheimer’s disease -- which was the purpose of the challenge.

He favors two explanations. First, demonstration that at least six types of germs are in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients proves yet again that the brain is not sterile.

Therefore, there may not be a single “Alzheimer’s germ”. Perhaps several microbes can cause the disease. If true, Alzheimer’s will become an “umbrella” term like pneumonia, diarrhea, and hepatitis. It will signify cognition infection, but further tests would be needed to identify the troublemaking organism.

Or, Norins says, the detection of so many microbes in the brain tells us the organ is like a train station for germs. Among the travelers is one saboteur, not yet identified, responsible for Alzheimer’s.

But could this germ have escaped notice? Yes, he says, pointing to the unexpected discovery of H. pylori as the cause of gastric ulcers after years of denial.

Norins concludes that the Challenge added recognition and momentum to the need to investigate microbes. “It would be great if we could cure Alzheimer’s with an already-licensed antibiotic; but sadly, trying this is continually postponed.”

Alzheimer’s Germ Quest is an independent organization, not affiliated with any other group. It is self-funded and neither seeks nor accepts donations.

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