New Challenge Offers Scientists $4M in Prize Money to Find Cause of Alzheimer’s

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by Mary Chapman |

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Oskar Fischer challenge

A retired U.S. executive has given $5 million to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Sciences to establish a contest that challenges scientists to find the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, building on work begun by pioneering neuroscientist Oskar Fischer more than a century ago.

The challenge, aptly named the Oskar Fischer Project, also hopes to help identify therapeutic targets for patients living with Alzheimer’s and related dementia disorders.

Announced during the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting this month in San Diego, the two-year challenge includes a top individual prize of $2 million, two second-place awards of $500,000 each, and four $250,000 third-place prizes. The contest is open to scientists worldwide.

“A century has passed since Oskar Fischer’s seminal work, and tens of billions have been spent around the world on research and potential cures. Over 130,000 research papers have been published and yet no definitive explanation and cure for Alzheimer’s has been found,” said project benefactor James Truchard in a press release.

“We need to look at Alzheimer’s as a big complex puzzle with a missing piece. We need a brilliant individual who can take all of the pieces and consider what each offers, and then develop one explanation that fits because it pulls all of the pieces together and makes the puzzle whole.”

Through the project, scientists will engage in a comprehensive literature review with the goal of compiling all of the information and ultimately coming up with one explanation for the cause of Alzheimer’s.

The challenge will be incubated at UTSA, a global leader in brain health investigation. Using cutting-edge technologies, the university’s Brain Health Consortium is actively involved in developing new and innovative disease therapeutics and researching brain function. Scientific expertise at its five centers runs the gamut, from neurodegenerative disease to psychology.

“Through Jim Truchard’s support, the Oskar Fischer Project will accelerate our shared mission of unraveling the mysteries of neurodegeneration through engagement with the smartest thinkers around the world,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “This contest will bring together the world’s best minds to consider the entire story.”

Proposals will be accepted beginning February 2019 and continue through the initiative’s two-year term. In collaboration with UTSA, an interdisciplinary committee of scientists will award the prizes.

In 1907, Fischer published a landmark paper characterizing and illustrating neuritic plaques (now called senile plaques, the signature lesions of Alzheimer’s disease) in 12 patients. He hypothesized that the plaques were associated with a form of senile dementia marked by memory loss, memory distortions and disorientation. In the same year, Alois Alzheimer published a paper on one patient with early onset Alzheimer’s.

He continued to publish, but in 1939, Fischer, who was Jewish, was fired from his role as investigator at the neuropathological school at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Two years later, he was sent to a nearby concentration camp, where he died in 1942.

Truchard, the former president and CEO of Austin, Texas-based National Instruments, discovered Fischer’s work while conducting personal research.

“The Oskar Fischer Project will take a new systems approach to the research on Alzheimer’s, building on the work Oskar Fischer started over a century ago,” said George Perry, PhD, the consortium’s chief scientist. “Jim Truchard’s generous gift will create an international forum to assess that work and bring forward an explanation that will advance society’s understanding of the disease.”

In addition to the $4 million in prize money, another $1 million will go toward challenge creation and to support Perry’s research.

The World Alzheimer’s Report 2018 estimates that about 50 million people globally have some form of dementia. That figure is expected to more than triple by 2050.