According to a new study published in the journal Nature, a medical procedure which involves injecting a contaminated human growth hormone could transmit a protein which is known to be associated with Alzheimer’s. Although the study is considered at the moment to be ‘largely theoretical’, it has made researchers question their assumption to the point where further research is warranted.
Could the protein beta-amyloid be to blame?
The study was undertaken as part of a research programme at the University College London, and involved analysing the brains of 8 people between the ages of 36 and 51. These people had recently passed away after suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), following treatment with human growth hormone which was contaminated with prion, the protein responsible for CJD. The team found evidence of prion disease in the brains of the 8 patients, plus they also found high levels of beta-amyloid protein (which is often found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) in the brains of 7 of the test subjects. While beta-amyloids can accumulate as we age, it’s very unusual to find such high levels in the brains of people in this age group (36-51).
Certain medical procedures may increase the risk of contamination
As a result of their findings, the research team suggested that certain medical procedures may increase the risk of accidently transferring the beta-amyloid, in the same way as CJD prions were transmitted. The protein ‘seeds’ have the potential to stick to the metal surface of surgical instruments, such as those used in medical procedures and dentistry. However, the team are quick to add that it’s not possible to ‘catch’ Alzheimer’s, and that people shouldn’t delay or cancel any kind of surgery as a result of these findings.
No evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s is contagious
This advice is also echoed by Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society who believes that further investigation is needed, particularly as this study was small, observational and left many questions unanswered. However, he did firmly point out that there is no evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s is contagious or that you can contract it from any current medical or dental procedure.
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