Issue: June 2020
Disclosures: Auwaerter reports no relevant financial disclosures.
June 30, 2019
2 min read

Q&A: Searching for infectious cause of Alzheimer’s disease

Issue: June 2020
Disclosures: Auwaerter reports no relevant financial disclosures.
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The Infectious Diseases Society of America Foundation announced that it will award five one-time grants of $100,000 to researchers investigating a potential infectious cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Paul Auwaerter
Paul Auwaerter

According to the IDSA Foundation, growing evidence has indicated that a bacterium, virus, fungi, parasite or prion may cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are eligible for the grants if they are narrowly focused on identifying a potential infectious agent linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the foundation said. The application is available at this link, now through Nov. 30, 2019. Both IDSA and non-IDSA members are eligible.

Infectious Diseases News spoke with Paul Auwaerter, MD, MBA, vice chair of the IDSA Foundation, about the grants’ potential impact on research into a link between infections and Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the goal of these grants?

These grants are meant to provide data and explore hypotheses about whether infections directly cause or trigger Alzheimer’s disease.

What type of research is likely to receive a grant?

Studies that directly investigate whether an infection or infections can be strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease are eligible. This avenue of research is meant to stimulate pilot, innovative studies that may lead to larger investigations.

What is known already about the possible link between infectious pathogens and Alzheimer’s disease?

Some studies have suggested that herpes viruses, namely HHV-6 and HHV-7, may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Other investigators have described significant gum disease due to the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis. None of these published studies are robust enough to suggest a direct cause. In recent decades, infection has not been pursued as an explanation for Alzheimer’s disease. Rather, an inflammatory hypothesis suggesting amyloid-like proteinaceous tangles in the brain as a cause has dominated recent Alzheimer’s disease research.

The awards will support “innovative research, including basic, clinical and/or nontraditional approaches.” What does the IDSA consider to be a nontraditional approach for this research endeavor?

Examples of nontraditional research approaches could include efforts such as preliminary designs meant to examine community-based or patient-based longitudinal studies with reporting of symptoms or specimen procurement based on citizen science, as just one example. The intent is to stimulate innovative proposals that could be judged as risky without a solid existing scientific foundation that would not likely receive funding through traditional mechanisms.

What impact might these grants have on Alzheimer’s disease research?

The intent is to facilitate scientific investigation into whether an infection is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of many possible explanations, and these grants are meant to facilitate looking into this.