Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 47 million people worldwide. The effects can be life-changing for both the people who are living with the disease and their loved ones. Although research interest in detecting and treating Alzheimer’s disease has increased, the origins of this complex disease remain a mystery.
Intriguing evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s disease may have a link to infectious diseases or a microbial mechanism, leaving us to question: Could this be the missing link to lead to a cure?
To help answer this question, the IDSA Foundation established the Microbial Pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s Disease Grant in 2018 to support investigators who share in the quest for unraveling the causation of Alzheimer’s disease and how microbial mechanisms may play a role. With applications for the 2021 grant cycle now open, we wanted to take the time to dive deeper into why this grant exists, who should apply and how it’s already making a difference.
What is the purpose of this grant?
Established in 2018, this grant is designed to support various levels of researchers across all disciplines who might otherwise have trouble lining up for innovative proposals in a competitive grant funding landscape. While the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease may have a tie to microbial agents is grounded in solid research, this research area has been left largely unexplored due to a lack of funding.
By providing individual grants at various funding levels, we hope to offer basic and clinical researchers the level of support they need to launch or continue their projects and gather the preliminary data that’s required to be considered for larger, more traditional grants from major funding institutions.
How does this grant cycle differ from previous years?
The biggest difference in this year’s grant cycle is the amount of grant funding available. Last year, we doubled our total grant funding amount from $500,000 to more than $1 million. This year, we’re raising the bar even further by offering a total of up to $1.7 million in individual grants ranging from $30,000 to up to $250,000 each to support innovative research approaches.
Also new this year, early-career investigators, including senior trainees and fellows, are eligible to apply for grants at the $30,000 level. Other levels of grants have also changed, including the addition of up to four $250,000 awards to established investigators who have already launched or developed initial research in the area of microbial triggers for disease. We’ve also added a $50,000 level for past awardees who have demonstrated significant progress in initial research findings and are looking to further their research.
The 2021 grant cycle will focus specifically on microbial triggers as they relate to the causation of Alzheimer’s disease.
Who should apply?
This opportunity is open to basic and clinical science researchers around the world, including those in the early stages of their career and those who have already established themselves as leaders in the field. Both members and non-members of IDSA are welcome to apply, and interdisciplinary research is encouraged. The program also provides a great opportunity for researchers who are trying to get into a new research area or explore new ideas.
What makes a strong proposal?
According to Kami Kim, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Disease & International Medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and a past chair of the Microbial Pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s Disease Grant review committee, the best proposals are the ones that venture outside the normal realm of thinking to offer unique approaches to basic, clinical and/or non-traditional research.
“Because the hypothesis that a microbe is involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease is not accepted, we’re looking for proposals that would demonstrate a real link that’s beyond just an association,” said Dr. Kim. “We recognize that will probably require multidisciplinary and innovative approaches to research.”
For Kim, ideal basic science proposals would involve work that might point to a mechanism by which a microbe could influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical approaches would ideally focus on identifying patients at risk or discoveries that might eventually lead to intervention or treatment.
David Andes, MD, co-chair of the Microbial Pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s disease grant review committee and chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, added that all microbial mechanisms are treated equally in the review process – what matters are the methods that will be used to get us closer to an understanding of Alzheimer’s roots.
“We’re looking to fund the best science,” said Dr. Andes. “I think the most exciting applications we’ve seen so far were those that were really thinking outside the box.”
Is there anything applicants should avoid or that wouldn’t be a good fit for this opportunity?
Alzheimer’s disease is common and devastating, making it a priority target for all types of research and ideas. The purpose of this grant is to specifically focus on the role of the microbe.
Dr. Kim explained, “Nonspecific phenomena, inflammation or some of the molecules directly related to pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s without the link to the microbe would not be ones that we’d be most interested in.”
The review committee wants to help investigators jump-start projects that relate to infectious diseases or microbial agents. According to Dr. Andes, any proposals that are relevant to this aim will be highly considered.
“We want to cast a very broad net, so the focus could be on any microbe or a group of microbes, whether it’s the microbiome, a virus, a fungus or a parasite. Anything in the microbial area is fair game,” he said.
What kinds of projects have received grant funding in the past?
So far, the program has awarded grant funding of various levels to 18 researchers across a wide range of health disciplines. In 2020, awardees represented the fields of infectious diseases, neurology, microbiology, pathology, immunology, virology and neurosurgery.
Grants from the program have funded proposals ranging from epidemiology and animal studies to data analytics and microbiology. We look forward to continuing to build this diverse research pipeline with projects that explore new territories and methods!
What sets this grant opportunity apart from others in the Alzheimer’s disease research space?
Marvin K. Shulte, PhD, a 2019 awardee for his project titled, “Viral Mimicry in Alzheimer’s Disease,” says that what interested him in applying was the fact that the grant is open to exploring an alternative hypothesis in the development of Alzheimer’s disease that deviates from existing research approaches.
“To me, this is a really unique grant opportunity. I know there are a lot of innovation grants out there, but this one challenges the existing paradigms in Alzheimer’s research and challenges researchers to look at Alzheimer’s disease in a new way. That allows us to explore new, untested waters,” said Dr. Shulte. “I think these types of grants are extremely rare and valuable, and I’m really appreciative of the IDSA Foundation for offering this grant.”
He also mentioned that the review and response time for this grant was much faster than other grants for which he has applied, which he noted is rare in academic research.
What advice do past applicants have for those who are considering applying?
Dr. Shulte encourages anyone with an interest in this research area to apply for a chance to jump-start their projects.
“The innovative nature of this grant allows you to explore areas of Alzheimer’s research that have been essentially impossible in the past due to the dominance of specific theories in Alzheimer’s disease. The viral interactions or microbial effects in Alzheimer’s disease are well-founded and are something that have not been explored sufficiently,” said Dr. Shulte. “I would advise people who have interest in this particular area to explore this grant because I think it’s a unique and rare opportunity to do something that could be a breakthrough for this disease.”
Applications for the 2021 Microbial Pathogenesis in Alzheimer’s Disease Grant are currently open and will close on Aug. 31. To apply, learn about projects that have been awarded grant funding in the past or find the answers to more frequently asked questions, visit IDSAFoundation.org/alz-research-grant. For eligibility, budget and formatting criteria, refer to the 2021 Request for Applications.