In 2014, Dr. Leslie Norins, a veteran medical publisher and former researcher in infectious diseases and immunology, became interested in what was known about the causation of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He undertook a two-year review of the scientific literature.
During that endeavor, he was impressed with the number of observations that seemed congruent with, or related to, phenomena and characteristics seen in infectious diseases. Was it possible that AD was actually an infection of an unusual type?
A small number of researchers had already been calling attention to these similarities, and indeed had even spotlighted various microbes as possibly playing key roles in AD. But their pleas, in a 2016 editorial in a research journal, for more intensive investigations at a higher priority had little effect. The government and non-government funders of most Alzheimer’s research continued their massive financing of studies related to amyloid plaques and protein tangles, the prominent protein accumulations seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The sums of money directed to research on infectious possibilities remained paltry.
Dr. Norins therefore decided in 2017 to try to assist the acceleration and intensity research on the possible causative role of microorganisms in AD. He prepared a white paper (It’s Time to Find the Alzheimer’s Germ) and developed sponsorship of a “challenge award” (Alzheimer’s Germ Quest ).
Why a “challenge award”?
Challenge awards are very different from research grants. Grants are provided to scientists to pay for research going forward. The application of the researcher must, on paper, appeal sufficiently to the peer reviewers that they rank the proposal as worth funding. Neither the financial sponsor nor the application judges require a particular goal be actually achieved.
Hopefully, some significant pieces, or at least tidbits, of new knowledge will be gained going forward. But this is not essential.
Challenge awards are very different. (Sometimes these are known as incentive challenges or incentive awards). They do not seek or pay for future research or performance. Instead, they recognize and reward a specific, named accomplishment already achieved. Usually a financial reward is included. The sponsor does not provide any funding to study or assist attainment of the desired goal. Without the sponsor’s aid, the entrant competitors must perform all necessary research or tasks using resources they have at hand or which they acquire or access.
Historically, the best-known challenge award contest was conducted by the British Navy, which offered a generous sum for creation of a very accurate seagoing clock, which would aid accurate determination of longitude. Eventually a qualifying device was produced, and it revolutionized naval navigation.
Challenge awards have also been offered successfully for “first person to…” accomplishments, including airplane flights, mountain climbing, etc. The first medical one seems to have been development of a non-invasive method to assess the course of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Although “grants” are probably a better-known mechanism for aiding accomplishments, challenge awards are now widely offered by the government and others.
Beware: the nomenclature is becoming fuzzy. There are now “challenge grants”. These are, like all grants, for research going forward. The word “challenge” is apparently used to indicate the purpose or research desired is somewhat out of the ordinary. These are not “challenge awards” in the classic sense; they are not given to recognize a result already achieved.
Alzheimer’s research activities have received billions of dollars in conventional grants and contracts over decades. Much knowledge has been gained, especially about amyloid plagues, protein tangles, and genetic patterns and functions. However, the root cause of AD is still unknown, and as yet no treatment or preventive has been developed.
There are many clues that the root cause of AD may be an infectious agent, as described in our white paper. However, little grant money has been channeled by the major funders to researching this possibility. As far as could be determined, until this program, no challenge award has ever been offered for presenting persuasive evidence of infection or any other possible root cause of AD.
In the case of many other infectious diseases, the discovery of the causative microbe was made by one scientist, or only a handful. They were already financially supported by salaries or other grants, and they used equipment and techniques already at hand.
Thus, large grants are not always necessary for breakthrough discoveries of infectious agents. What the researcher supplied in those cases was intuition, creative thinking, and persistence. Nature and Higher Powers possibly contributed some serendipity and luck.
This Alzheimer’s Germ Quest challenge award of $1 million seeks to stimulate scientists to focus quickly and intensely on persuasively demonstrating a specific microbial cause of AD, using materials, techniques, and specimens they have at hand or which are easily available.
What is Alzheimer’s Germ Quest, Inc.?
The sponsor of this challenge award is Alzheimer’s Germ Quest, Inc. This is a privately held company, founded in 2017, and controlled by Dr. Leslie Norins and his wife, Rainey. It is incorporated in Florida, as a public benefit corporation. “Public benefit” indicates that one of its charter purposes is to help the citizenry, in this case accelerating and intensifying the search for infectious agents as root causes of AD.
The firm is completely independent, and not affiliated with or endorsed by any government agency, nonprofit group, pharmaceutical company, or other entity.
Donations from the public are not solicited or accepted.
The firm’s capital and operating funds come from its founders. They will also fund the challenge award. If others share the vision of accelerating and deepening research on infectious agents in Alzheimer’s and would like to offer support, we would be happy to discuss possibilities for participation.
Watch the Founders describe the project here: View Videos