The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, announced in his blog this week he is getting involved in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia. The billionaire businessman, author and philanthropist said on Monday, Nov. 13 he is donating $100 million to the cause.
The 62-old Gates wrote on his blog, gatesnotes.com, that on average us humans are living longer and that the longer we live the more likely we are to “develop a chronic condition” such as arthritis, Parkinson’s or another non-infectious disease.
“But of all the disorders that plague us late in life,” Gates continued. “One stands out as a particularly big threat to society: Alzheimer’s disease.”
Gates himself may have a elevated risk for developing Alzheimer’s, which is responsible for over 60 percent of cognitive illnesses, or another form of dementia, as he noted that “men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s.” But he said it is not just his likelihood of being stricken by Alzheimer’s that motivated him to become involved.
“My family history isn’t the sole reason behind my interest in Alzheimer’s,” he wrote. “But my personal experience has exposed me to how hopeless it feels when you or a loved one gets the disease. We’ve seen scientific innovation turn once-guaranteed killers like HIV into chronic illnesses that can be held in check with medication. I believe we can do the same (or better) with Alzheimer’s.”
Alzheimer’s in America and the world
The numbers are astonishing. As Gates pointed out, in 2017, some $259 billion will be spent in the U.S. alone to care for people with Alzheimer’s and other debilitating cognitive diseases. Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in America.
Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that in 2016 nearly 44 million people worldwide suffered from dementia. While it is known dementia proliferates when microscopic clumps of protein pieces known as beta-amyloids, or plaques, buildup in the brain, gradually preventing brain cells from communicating and eventually killing them, it is not known how to stop it.
Only very expensive PET scans or spinal taps can predict whether someone will go on to develop dementia but there is research underway for a blood test to predict the likelihood. There are also a number of research initiatives underway which show promise that a cure for the illness is getting closer but to date there is no known cure.
Mr. Gates said the the money he is donating is from his own funds, not from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Fifty-million dollars of the $100 million he donates will be going directly to the Dementia Discovery Fund, “a private fund working to diversify the clinical pipeline and identify new targets for treatment.”
“This is a frontier where we can dramatically improve human life,” Gates wrote about Alzheimer’s and dementia. “It’s a miracle that people are living so much longer, but longer life expectancies alone are not enough. People should be able to enjoy their later years—and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that.
“I’m excited to join the fight and can’t wait to see what happens next.”