Every four seconds a new case of dementia is diagnosed. Never have people led healthier and longer lives. At a price: this has resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of people with dementia, as dementia mainly affects people when they get very old. But dementia is not a normal part of aging. The total number of people affected increases rapidly and might reach 120 million in 2050. Most of the affected people will be living in Asia, Latin America, or Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), caring for and treating people with dementia currently costs the world more than 600 billion dollars per year.
Alzheimer's disease is the most frequent cause of dementia and has become a major public health concern; in fact the WHO declared dementia a public health priority.
As a previous State Secretary of Research and Education in Switzerland, I am aware of the challenge to governments and health systems, but also to families to care for the growing number of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Finding a cure for this devastating disease is top priority. Many research organizations, thousands of research laboratories and hospitals, various biotech and pharma companies, patient organizations, and foundations have devoted enormous efforts to find therapeutic agents to cure or prevent this terrible disease, with few and disappointing results. Neurodegenerative diseases are so daunting that the most important—and rare—ingredient today is courage to follow new ideas, untrodden paths, and disruptive innovations.
As a trained neurologist, psychiatrist, and neuropathologist, Dr. Judith Miklossy has early on detected that spirochetes (helically shaped bacteria) when they invade brain cells, reproduce the filamentous pathology characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Judith Miklossy has defended nearly single-handedly the hypothesis that chronic infection by spirochetes and several other important pathogens could constitute risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.
This is still a debated and largely underfunded alley of research in Alzheimer's disease. But if this hypothesis holds true, early intervention against infection may delay or even prevent the future development of Alzheimer's disease.
As a former State Secretary responsible for science policy, I always wondered how we could foster disruptive, innovative research. Granting agencies, with a well-established (and necessary) peer-review cycle, have trouble funding research for new disruptive ideas. Personalities like Judith, and foundations like the Prevention Alzheimer International Foundation established in Switzerland are the engines of this necessary type of research. Alzheimer's disease is too important and tragic for us to neglect any promising avenue.
Charles Kleiber PhD
State Secretary for Education and Research (1997–2008), Switzerland