X Prize to provide incentive for Alzheimer’s cure
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The X Prize Foundation, which in 2004 awarded $10 million for the first privately built, manned spacecraft launched into space twice in two weeks, has now set its sights on effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
The foundation is creating a new Alzheimer’s X Prize to inspire the ingenuity of researchers and increase their interest in taking on the daunting task of stopping the disease.
The new prize was proposed by a team of experts co-directed by Eric C. Leuthardt, MD, associate professor of neurological surgery and biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The team’s proposal to tackle Alzheimer’s won a competition that drew proposals on topics of importance to society. As a result, the foundation is now raising $50 million to establish the Alzheimer’s X Prize.
“Basically, X Prizes are about making the impossible possible,” said Leuthardt, who treats patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “They’re about giving innovators the incentive to achieve new breakthroughs that benefit society.”
A similar contest, known as the Orteig Prize, inspired Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, Leuthardt noted, and that led to the start of commercial air travel a short time later.
The X Prize Foundation hosts an annual “visioneering” conference, where more than 100 pioneering scientists, inventors, engineers, artists and business leaders meet to propose new X Prizes as part of a competition.
The attendees are divided into teams and assigned an area of research within which they create an X Prize proposal. The team led by Leuthardt and Dean Ornish, MD, founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, was given the topic of aging.
Noting that an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease is on its way, the team compared the potential crisis to a meteor in space lined up to strike the Earth.
“Populations are growing older around the world, and Alzheimer’s risk increases significantly with age,” Leuthardt said. “This will affect not only the elderly but also their families and loved ones, and it will have devastating emotional and economic consequences.”
The details of what qualifies as a cure for Alzheimer’s will be established as the foundation raises the $50 million prize. As in other X Prizes, the winners of the new award will retain the intellectual property rights for their breakthrough.
“I think everyone is touched or will soon be touched by Alzheimer’s,” Leuthardt said. “I think that’s part of the reason why our proposal won — everybody in the audience had a family member affected by Alzheimer’s or knew someone with a family member affected by this disorder.”
Other X Prizes include or have included a prize for the first “tricorder” (a handheld device that can non-invasively diagnose 20 diseases like the tricorders featured on Star Trek); a prize for the first group to sequence the DNA of 100 100-year-olds for identification of genetic factors linked to extended lifespans; and a prize for the first privately funded team to send a lander to the moon.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.