It has been more than 112 years since Oskar Fischer and Alois Alzheimer published descriptions of the condition we now call Alzheimer’s disease. Despite having spent tens of billions of dollars on research, we haven’t advanced our understanding of Alzheimer’s much beyond the careful clinical and laboratory work that Oskar Fischer described in four seminal papers in 1907, 1910, and 1912.
Oskar Fischer worked in the Department of Psychiatry at the German University in Prague, under the direction of the renowned psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Arnold Pick. Oskar Fischer’s work met a very high standard for research, for example his 1907 paper described the presence of plaques in 12 out of 16 dementia cases, four being senile dementia. It also provided the first description of neuritic plaques, accompanied with detailed drawings of the plaques. The rigor of his work was further supported by the fact that he included descriptions of 10 controls that didn’t have dementia or plaques.
In contrast, Alois Alzheimer’s 1907 paper described a single patient, Auguste Deter, whom Alzheimer observed only once five years prior to her death. His follow-on clinical observations were second-hand from Perusini who had observed her for three of the remaining five years of her life. Apparently, Auguste had several conditions beyond dementia, including diabetes, angina, arteriosclerosis and blindness. Arteriosclerosis appears to be the cause of her death in 1906 at the age of 55, at which time Alzheimer examined her brain. Recent DNA analysis of her brain had a first study yielding a positive result for an early onset gene variant and a second study yielding a negative result. Further testing needs to be done.
Not only was Oskar Fischer a successful research scientist with numerous publications, he was also a very successful entrepreneur and businessman, founding a sanitarium with his cousin Leo Kosak. In 1910, they purchased the Chateau Veleslavin for their sanitarium. Oskar Fischer’s fortune continued until the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, at which time he was deposed from his teaching position because of his Jewish heritage. It was this same year that the Nazi (National Socialist) Gestapo appropriated the sanitarium. The Gestapo arrested Oskar Fischer in early 1941 and deported him to the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, a prison similar to Dachau in Germany. According to neighbor and fellow colleague, Vladimir Vondracek, Oskar Fischer died on February 28, 1942 after being severely beaten.
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According to the World Alzheimer Report 2018 by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), an estimated 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia at a cost of $1 trillion to the global economy. That population is expected to more than triple by the year 2050.
To expand the understanding and explanation of Alzheimer’s disease, United States businessman James Truchard has given a $5 million USD gift to The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Sciences to establish the Oskar Fischer Prize. The initiative will engage the world’s brightest minds in a comprehensive literature review with the goal of synthesizing that information into one explanation for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, taking a new systems approach to the research on Alzheimer’s, building on the work Oskar Fischer started over a century ago.
The challenge will award up to $4 million USD in Oskar Fischer Prizes, including a grand prize of $2 million, two second place prizes of $500,000 each and four third place prizes of $250,000 each. Collectively, the monetary awards are the world’s largest prizes of their kind.
The call for entries will open in late 2019 and will continue through the two-year term of the project. UTSA will work closely with an interdisciplinary committee of outstanding scientists from Texas and around the world to award the Oskar Fischer Prizes.
Named an Innovation Agent by Fast Company, James Truchard, president and CEO, co-founded National Instruments in 1976 and has pioneered the way scientists and engineers solve the world’s grand engineering challenges.
As one of Forbes’ America’s Favorite Bosses, Dr. James Truchard, commonly known around NI as Dr. T, has led the company from a three-man team to a multinational organization recognized as a Fortune 100 Best Places to Work and one of the top 25 World’s Best Multinational Workplaces by the Great Places to Work Institute.
Under Truchard’s leadership, the company’s long-term vision, known as the 100 year plan, and focus on improving the world by providing tools that accelerate productivity, innovation and discovery, has led to strong, consistent company growth and success of its broad base of customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders.
The UTSA Brain Health Consortium (BHC) is a collaborative, multidisciplinary team of researchers committed to discovering the inner workings of the brain with the common goal of applying those discoveries to prevent and treat neurological disorders. Together, we specialize in neuroscience, regenerative medicine, medicinal chemistry, biomedical engineering and data analytics combine their talents to advance the understanding of the brain.