Dr. Leslie Norins is willing to hand over $1 million of his own money to anyone who can clarify something: Is Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia worldwide, caused by a germ?
By "germ" he means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words, Norins, a physician turned publisher, wants to know if Alzheimer's is infectious.
It's an idea that just a few years ago would've seemed to many an easy way to drain your research budget on bunk science. Money has poured into Alzheimer's research for years, but until very recently not much of it went toward investigating infection in causing dementia.
But this "germ theory" of Alzheimer's, as Norins calls it, has been fermenting in the literature for decades. Even early 20th century Czech physician Oskar Fischer — who, along with his German contemporary Dr. Alois Alzheimer, was integral in first describing the condition — noted a possible connection between the newly identified dementia and tuberculosis, according to NPR.
If the germ theory gets traction, even in some Alzheimer's patients, it could trigger a seismic shift in how doctors understand and treat the disease.
For instance, would we see a day when dementia is prevented with a vaccine, or treated with antibiotics and antiviral medications? Norins thinks it's worth looking into.
Norins received his medical degree from Duke in the early 1960s, and after a stint at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention he fell into a lucrative career in medical publishing. He eventually settled in an admittedly aged community in Naples, Fla., where he took an interest in dementia and began reading up on the condition.
After scouring the medical literature he noticed a pattern.
"It appeared that many of the reported characteristics of Alzheimer's disease were compatible with an infectious process," Norins tells NPR. "I thought for sure this must have already been investigated, because millions and millions of dollars have been spent on Alzheimer's research."
But aside from scattered interest through the decades, this wasn't the case.
In 2017, Norins launched Alzheimer's Germ Quest Inc., a public benefit corporation he hopes will drive interest into the germ theory of Alzheimer's, and through which his prize will be distributed. A white paper he penned for the site reads: "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.' "
Norins is quick to cite sources and studies supporting his claim, among them a 2010 study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery showing that neurosurgeons die from Alzheimer's at a seven-fold higher rate than they do from other disorders.
Read the full story at NPR.