(CNN) — Bill Gates has a new mission. The millionaire is investing millions of dollars into dementia research.
Every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops dementia. The most common form, Alzheimer’s. More than five million Americans are living with the disease right now and that comes to a cost of more than 250 billion dollars a year in terms of care.
By 2050, that number is expected to explode to as many as 16 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, and care? That’s expected to reach a trillion dollars.
Bill Gates: “We don’t really have anything that stops Alzheimer’s. And so the growing burden is pretty unbelievable.”
Well known for his philanthropy in the world of infectious disease, Bill Gates, for the first time, is investing $50 million of his own dollars into a non-communicable disease.
He will support the dementia discovery fund, a public-private collaboration that helps new avenues of research, ideas that may have a hard time otherwise getting funded.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: “Should the word cure be used with Alzheimer’s?”
Bill Gates: “It’s probably setting a high bar. At first we probably should say treatment. And any type of treatment would be a huge advance from where we are today. So, yes, I believe there is a solution.”
Deep inside the brain, billions of cells work to create memories by sending messages through a neutral highway. Electrical signals passing through junctions called synapses, where chemicals called neurotransmitters leap across the gap carrying the message to more and more neurons. But in Alzheimer’s, these pathways become blocked by unusual proteins called amyloids and tau that clump and tangle, affecting memory, personality and eventually basic functions of the brain.
Bill Gates: “People looking at the immune system of the brain, the idea that your cells just run out of energy, that the energy engine, the mitochondria, over the period of your life get broken down. So a lot of great science going on.”
Today, Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Since 2000, while the number of people who have died from heart disease has dropped by 14%, the number of people who’ve died from Alzheimer’s has increased by 89%.
Gupta: “Was there a personal connection with Alzheimer’s for you?”
Gates: “Yes, my family, including several of the men in my family, had this disease. And so you and I have seen how tough it is.”
Gupta: “Do you worry about this for yourself? Alzheimer’s disease?”
Gates: “Anything where my mind would deteriorate, I have to say I would be disappointed that thinking about complex problems, and I hope I can live a long time without those limitations.”