Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million to Alzheimer’s Research

The philanthropist has watched family members struggle with the disease.

bill gates, microsoft

The fight against Alzheimer’s disease has a powerful new ally: Bill Gates. The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist announced a $100 million pledge toward disease research.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and more than 93,000 died of the disease in 2014. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than 5 million Americans currently live with the condition. About 10 percent of people over age 65 are thought to have it; two-thirds are women.

Gates’ personal connection to the disease

In a November 13 blog post called “Why I’m Digging Deep Into Alzheimer’s,” Gates wrote he understood the financial and emotional costs of the degenerative neurological condition—to both the healthcare system and families.

“This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s,” he said. “I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”

As part of his post, Gates identified five areas in which he believes progress is crucial:

  • Understanding how Alzheimer’s develops in the brain
  • Improving early detection and diagnosis of the disease
  • Increasing the number of approaches to stopping Alzheimer’s
  • Simplifying the path to clinical trial enrollment
  • Collecting and using research better

Though he’s been careful to emphasize he believes treatments will initially be very expensive, and may not be ready for a decade—or more—Gates is enthusiastic about the potential for advancement.

“We’ve seen scientific innovation turn once-guaranteed killers like HIV into chronic illnesses that can be held in check with medication,” he said. “I believe we can do the same (or better) with Alzheimer’s.”

Looking toward the future

Gates is donating his personal money rather than funds collected through his family’s philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of his pledge, $50 million is going to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a UK-based private fund working on different approaches to treatment. Another $50 million will go to start-ups to be named at a later date.

This also marks the first time Gates is contributing towards research and treatment of a non-communicable disease, rather than one that’s passed on, like HIV or malaria.

“People should be able to enjoy their later years—and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that,” Gates says. “I’m excited to join the fight and can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Photo credit: Kuhlmann/MSC

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