Alzheimer's

Scientists have theorised that patients may be able to contract Azheimer’s during some medical procedures, in the same way as CJD.

The speculative research centred on findings that clusters of amyloid proteins – the physical manifestation of Alzheimer’s – can be passed from one brain into another via contaminated surgical instruments.

The findings came by chance during a study by Dr John Collinge and his colleagues from University College London, during a post-mortem examination of eight patients. Each had contracted CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) from contaminated human-derived growth hormones during the 1980s. All were relatively young (aged 31 to 51) and had no family history of Alzheimer’s.

Yet seven of the eight patients displayed small patches of amyloid clusters – the physical sign of Alzheimer’s. Were these introduced at the same time as the CJD?

While Dr Collinge’s team have insisted that their findings do not necessarily constitute an Alzheimer’s ‘infection’ (it’s unclear whether any of the patients would have gone on to develop the disease), it’s the first time that the telltale protein has appeared to transfer from one patient to another.

Reaction to the suspected discovery has been sceptical. Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented: “While the findings sound concerning, it’s important to remember that human-derived hormone injections are no longer used.

“The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, along with genetic and lifestyle factors.”

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