The Department of Health's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies is at the center of the so-called "Alzheimergate" scandal after she was reported to have approached a leading scientific journal to play down the results of an Alzheimer's study.
Davies approached the editor of The Lancet journal regarding the results of the study, which at the time was due for publication. The research, which suggests that Alzheimer's could be a transmissible disease, was published by the journal Nature earlier this month.
The government's top doctor told The Lancet editor Richard Horton that the paper, which was hailed to change current understanding of the debilitating brain disease, could likely result in a public reaction. Davies also asked Horton to give her advice on how the story should be handled once it is published.
In an open letter she addressed to "science correspondents," Davie admitted having spoken with Horton about her worry that the study could be misreported.
"During this brief discussion I made reference to the then-upcoming Nature article, specifically to my worry about the potential for misreporting of the research, not the research itself," Davies wrote. "As Chief Medical Officer, it is my duty to raise concerns about possible misreporting of health issues that might cause public alarm."
The research suggests of the possibility of "seeds" of the Alzheimer's brain protein being spread via certain medical procedures as signs of the beta-amyloid protein were detected in the brains of patients who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), after they received growth hormone from dead people's pituitary glands.
None of the patients, who were between 36 to 51 years old, were genetically predisposed to have the brain disease. At their age, they were also considered young to naturally develop the disease prompting study researcher John Collinge and colleagues to conclude that seeds of the brain disease may have been transferred with the growth hormone along with the infective agent of the CJD.
Although the researchers said that Alzheimer's could not be caught like the common cold, the findings have wider implications that warrant further studies.
The result, for instance, hint of the possibility that similar seeds could accidentally contaminate surgical instruments and spread through other medical procedures such as dental operations, blood transfusions and anything that involves contaminated medical instruments.
Amyloid beta protein clings to metal and is known to be resistant to formaldehyde and boiling water.