“Remember when we thought ulcers were caused by stress?” asks physician-turned-publisher Dr. Leslie Norins. We now know that ulcers are actually caused by a germ, which immensely changes the way we understand and treat them. And Dr. Norins believes the case may be the same for Alzheimer’s disease. Which is why he’s personally offering a $1 million dollar prize to the person who can prove that this is the case and pinpoint the specific germ that’s to blame.
“The important thing is not the amount of the money, which is a pittance compared with the $2 billion NIH spends on amyloid and tau research,” says Dr. Norins, “but rather the respectability and more mainstream status the grants confer on investigating of the infectious possibility.”
When Norins talks about germs causing Alzheimer’s, he’s referring to some sort of microbe, either unidentified or undiscovered, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. As early as the 20th century, researchers were making connections between dementia and infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. However, more recently, the theory that Alzheimer’s is caused by the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain has taken precedence over the germ idea in research.
Dr. Norins has worked as a physician and a medical publisher for many years in an aged community in Naples, Florida, which sparked his interest in dementia. When he originally came upon the idea of Alzheimer’s being contagious via some form of germ, he was surprised to learn that someone hadn’t already looked into it.
“It appeared that many of the reported characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease were compatible with an infectious process,” Norins says. “I thought for sure this must have already been investigated, because millions and millions of dollars have been spent on Alzheimer’s research.”
That wasn’t the case. Only a few scattered documents throughout several decades denote any interest in the subject, let alone quality research. But Norins hopes that his $1 million dollar reward will prompt researchers to put more resources and time into what he considers a very important research topic.
In his writing on the theory, Norins sites several sources of intriguing information, including the surprisingly high rate of HHV-6 and HHV-7 (herpes) viruses present among people with dementia. There’s also the fact that neurosurgeons are seven times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s disease than other disorders, and people who are married to someone with dementia are six times more likely to develop it as well.
“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,” writes Norins. “I’m calling it the ‘Alzheimer’s Germ.'”
If what Dr. Norins believes is true, we may soon see a day where dementia can be prevented with a vaccine or treated with antibiotics. But first we’ve got to figure out what we’re fighting against.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?