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Uncovering Rare Cases of Possible Alzheimer’s Transmission Linked to Discontinued Medical Treatment

A recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine has revealed a potential connection between early-onset dementia symptoms in five adults and a now-discontinued human growth hormone (HGH) medical treatment they received as children. The study, led by John Collinge, director of the University College London Institute of Prion Diseases, marks the first reported evidence of medically acquired Alzheimer’s disease in living individuals.

The research indicates that the patients’ early-onset dementia symptoms may be linked to the transmission of amyloid beta protein, a key component of Alzheimer’s disease known for forming plaques in the brain. While the study does not suggest that Alzheimer’s is contagious like viral or bacterial infections, it raises intriguing questions about the disease and other degenerative conditions.

Collinge emphasized the rarity of these occurrences, clarifying that they are primarily associated with outdated medical procedures. All five adults in the study had a history of growth hormone deficiency as children and received pituitary growth hormones prepared from cadavers between 1959 and 1985. This treatment, once used globally, was discontinued due to its association with the rare brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The study proposes that repeated exposure to cadaver-derived HGH contaminated with both prions linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and amyloid beta seeds could transmit Alzheimer’s disease. Prions are proteins known to transmit neurodegenerative diseases.

While the study highlights the potential transmission of Alzheimer’s under specific circumstances, the researchers stress that the public has nothing to fear, as the outdated human growth hormone treatment is no longer in use. The findings, however, prompt a recommendation to review medical procedures to prevent similar transmissions in the future.

The study examined eight cases of individuals treated with cadaver-derived HGH as children, finding that five patients showed symptoms consistent with early-onset dementia, with three diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The research underscores the need for continued vigilance in sterilization and decontamination during medical procedures.

Dr. Richard Isaacson, not involved in the study, acknowledges the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s and emphasizes the importance of maintaining sterile practices in medical settings. He reassures the public that this type of human growth hormone treatment is no longer used.

The study’s findings open up new avenues for scientific inquiry, prompting questions about the transmission of proteins involved in brain diseases. Dr. James Galvin of the University of Miami Health System emphasizes the need for further investigation into the potential impact on clinical practices and the reconsideration of the science behind Alzheimer’s disease, particularly the properties of amyloid and tau proteins.

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