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ON THE MIND

The world’s largest brain research prize was just awarded to Alzheimer’s research

A close-up image of a human brain.
AP Photo/David Duprey
Four European scientists won a total of 1 million Euro for their work trying to understand the pathology of the disease.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Alzheimer’s disease is a massive global burden. Between 30 and 40 million individuals currently have the progressive disease, and by 2050, there are expected to be anywhere from 80 to 105 million cases. But while it is the most prevalent form of dementia, there haven’t been any new drugs to treat the disease for nearly two decades.

A new grant suggests that the world’s scientific community is serious about prioritizing research into the disesase. Today, March 6, the Euro Brain Prize was awarded to four researchers who have dedicated their work to understanding the disease. The award, granted by the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark, is € 1 million (roughly $1.2 million USD) is the single largest prize given to brain research in the world.

Four researchers are splitting the prize. Bart De Strooper and Michael Goedert, who are based in the UK, and Christian Haass at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, all study how the disease slowly destroys the brain over time. Their work contributed to understanding how amyloid plaques and tau proteins build up and spread in the brain, and how healthy brains normally clear these proteins. John Hardy, also based in the UK, studies how genetics can play a role in the disease. In about 1% of the population, Alzheimer’s can be inherited through a single mutation; other mutations may make it more or less likely for people to develop the disease, but these links are far less certain.

The Lundbeck Foundation isn’t the only major group to turn its attention to Alzheimer’s disease. Late last year, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates announced he would be donating $50 million of his personal funds to Alzheimer’s research. Additionally, in 2017, the US federal government allocated $1.3 billion of funding to Alzheimer’s research—more than twice they had allocated for the disease in 2015.

Science takes time. The benefits of research from funding don’t appear in published work for a couple of years after grants are awarded. But hopefully, additionally finances now will lead to better treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

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