Bill Gates has revealed that the motivation behind donating $100 million (£70 million) to dementia research was his father. The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft pledged the money from his personal fortune back in November and has now explained that 92-year-old Bill Gates Senior has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
At present, there is no cure for the neurodegenerative disease, but an injection of cash from the tech mogul could help devise new effective treatments. Mr Gates is backing innovative new approaches to research in the hope that within ten to 15 years, new drugs could become available.
The money will be split between the Dementia Discovery Fund and an international database to help scientists collaborate more fully. The latter will include a patient registry that will enable scientists to recruit dementia sufferers for clinical trials more easily.
Mr Gates’ father was himself a big name in business and had a hand in high-profile deals, such as the purchase of Starbucks by Harold Schultz. It has led to fears for his son that he may also suffer from the condition if treatment is not developed in the coming years.
In an interview with NBC journalist Maria Shriver, he said: “I have a father who's affected deeply by it. Only by solving problems like this can we take these medical costs and the human tragedy and really get those under control.”
It isn’t clear how long Gates Senior has had the disease, but it has clearly affected his son greatly. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and around 50 million people worldwide suffer from it. By 2050, the number could have risen to 131 million, according to figures from Alzheimer’s Disease International.
When announcing his donation in November, Mr Gates hinted at personal experience of dementia. He said: “I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity... It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”
Mr Gates’ decision to contribute to funding was not a knee-jerk reaction to his father’s diagnosis, however. He spent time talking to experts in dementia over the course of a year and discovered five key areas that would benefit from extra focus.
- better understanding how Alzheimer’s progresses;
- detecting and diagnosing the condition at an early stage;
- exploring multiple solutions to halting the disease;
- making clinical trial participation easier;
- and better using the data available.
On this final point, Mr Gates said: “My background at Microsoft and my foundation background say to me that a data-driven contribution might be an area where I can help add some value. I really believe that if we orchestrate the right resources, it's solvable.”
By opening up about his father’s struggle, Mr Gates highlights the fact that Alzheimer’s can affect people from all walks of life. If you’re finding it hard to cope with a relative who has dementia, you’re not alone, it’s a worldwide issue.