A new study found that the debilitating neurodegenerative disorder that is Alzheimer's disease may be transmitted from one person to another. The mechanisms under which it happens are very unusual and may only occur in rare events where there is contact to an infected brain tissue. Therefore, it is highly important to know how it happens to ensure effective prevention.
The researchers examined the brain autopsy findings of eight individuals whose cause of death was Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD), which is a neurological disease caused by a certain misfolded protein or prion. The participants all suffered from short stature when they were young and for this, they received growth hormones extracted from the prion-contaminated pituitary glands of human cadavers between 1958 and 1985.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Nature, showed that four of the brains contracted massive amounts of amyloid beta, which is the primary protein content associated with Alzheimer's disease. Two of the brains exhibited patches of the said protein while only one brain remained totally unaffected. According to Live Science, amyloid beta is not typically noted in the brains of people with CJD.
"This is the first evidence of real-world transmission of amyloid pathology," says John Hardy, study co-author from the University College London (UCL). This may cause a possible concern in the future, he adds.
Although the researchers were not able to observe all the features that Alzheimer's disease patients have, senior author Dr. John Collinge from UK's Medical Research Council said that these people may have possibly died before all the elements of the disease developed.
If the data from this small study will be confirmed, this may implicate that individuals who received human growth hormone treatment may be at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Although there is no proof that the disease can be transmitted through ordinary person-to-person contact, experts are still concerned that the study findings project that Alzheimer's disease may be transmitted in ways that CJD can; this includes blood transfusion and exposure to contaminated surgical tools.
To prevent the possible acquisition of Alzheimer's disease through the ways that the study was able to discover, the researchers advised precaution for patients, especially those who frequent neurological facilities where deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease-induced tremors are offered.
For clinics and medical professionals, it is vital that all equipment used in neurological procedures is free from contaminants so that transmission of unwanted diseases may be prevented. Disposable equipment, such as one-time use stimulation electrodes are recommended.
Because of the critical implications of the study, scientists are looking to replicate the initial findings independently. Specifically, they plan to study 20-30 individuals who died of CJD in France following the receipt of human growth hormones from cadavers.