Shocking new evidence has revealed that it may be possible to catch Alzheimer’s disease through medical ‘accidents’. The new study has shown that Alzheimer’s disease can be spread through blood transfusions, or via dental work or operations.
The findings came about from a study into eight people who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) after they received contaminated human growth hormone injections when they were children. The eight adults in the study were all aged between 36 and 51.
When autopsies were carried out on their brains it revealed that seven of the eight carried the ‘amyloid-beta’ proteins associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This is totally unheard of for people this young to have these proteins in their brains.
The ‘tau’ proteins were not found, but these are associated with the latter stages of the disease, which if the eight had lived longer, they may have developed these symptoms.
Scientists reasoned that these amyloid-beta proteins were transferred into the body via the tainted growth-hormone injections as protein ‘seeds’.
They called into question whether these seeds could also be transferred via surgical equipment such as dental and operating instruments.
It is well known that these types of prion proteins are extremely hardy and can survive rigorous cleaning and sterilisation techniques. The scientists also raise the question of whether these prions could have been passed on through blood transfusions:
“It is not clear here that this is relevant to blood transfusions, and epidemiological studies have been done in the past looking for links between Alzheimer’s disease and blood transfusions and they have not shown an association,” Professor John Collinge, head of neurodegenerative diseases at University College London, said.
The study has shown that for the first time, Alzheimer’s disease may be a transferrable disease and not just one that is contracted through genetic history or old age.
The scientists behind the study were keen to point out that it is not possible to catch Alzheimer’s by simply living with someone who has the disease. Nor should people put off having surgery.
However, the findings do raise the disturbing possibility that Alzheimer’s can be transmitted under certain circumstances.
Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said the findings were ‘interesting’ but contain ‘too many unknowns’.
He added: “Injections of growth hormones taken from human brains were stopped in the 1980s.
“There remains absolutely no evidence that Alzheimer’s disease is contagious or can be transmitted from person to person via any current medical procedures.’
Department of Health’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, said:
“This was a small study on only eight samples.
“We monitor research closely and there is a large research programme in place to help us understand and respond to the challenges of Alzheimer’s.
“I can reassure people that the NHS has extremely stringent procedures in place to minimise infection risk from surgical equipment, and patients are very well protected.”