For the first time, it has been discovered that Alzheimer’s disease is triggered by a certain medical treatment.

Until now, the only known cause was known to be happening from within, if generally speaking. Dementia, which is the most common type of Alzheimer’s is caused by the building up of amyloid proteins in the brain.

The risk factors involved unhealthy lifestyle habits, age, certain medical conditions, and family history.

What did the new study discover?

The researchers at the University College London (UCL), whose study was published in Nature Medicine, revealed that the development of Alzheimer’s is connected to growth hormone treatments.

The patients who are given a kind of human growth hormone, extracted from the pituitary glands of deceased people (c-hGH), were studied in the research.

The researchers discovered that the c-hGH had led to the production of more amyloid-beta protein in the brain.

Five out of the eight people studied, who had been treated c-hGH as children, developed dementia symptoms and had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or had similar symptoms come under the disease perimeter, as reported by Fox News.

The study reported that the patients under observation were between ages 38 and 55 when they started to experience symptoms of cognitive decline. It was confirmed through genetic tests that the disease was not hereditary transferred.

To reiterate Christopher Weber, PhD, the director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, not part of the UNC research stated, “You can’t catch Alzheimer’s by taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s,” and “You can’t catch Alzheimer’s by taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s,” Fox News reported,

According to Dr. Gargi Banerjee, a researcher at the UCL Institute of Prion Diseases, “We have found that it is possible for amyloid-beta pathology to be transmitted and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

He added further, “This transmission occurred following treatment with a now-obsolete form of growth hormone, and involved repeated treatments with contaminated material, often over several years.”

Moreover, the researchers also highlighted that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be transmitted from person-to-person contact. John Collinge, the professor and director of the UCL Institute of Prion Diseases and a consultant neurologist at UCLH also mentioned, “There is no suggestion whatsoever that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted between individuals during activities of daily life or routine medical care.”

He continued, “The patients we have described were given a specific and long-discontinued medical treatment that involved injecting patients with material now known to have been contaminated with disease-related proteins,” Fox News reported.

Is the faulty treatment still continued?

The kind of growth hormone treatment mentioned in the study was put off in 1985, after the revelation that it caused Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in some people. CJD, a brain degenerating disorder causes dementia and death.

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Coolidge said the study findings should be used to help prevent any “accidental transmission via other medical or surgical procedures” in the future.

The usefulness of the study: Experts

As per the reports by Fox News, Dr. Rehan Aziz, a geriatric psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, who was not part of the research said, a potential evidence has been produced for a “very rare but transmissible form” of Alzheimer’s disease.

He further added, “The study describes just five Alzheimer’s patients out of the more than 1,800 people who were known to have received growth hormone in this way,” and “Remarkably, the patients all developed Alzheimer’s dementia at young ages, though several of them had complicated histories that may have contributed.”

As per Aziz, the development of symptoms at an early age shows that they did not have a usual form of Alzheimer’s which is generally associated with age.

He further added, “The research raises the question of whether beta-amyloid protein can propagate itself, leading to cascading memory loss and worsening Alzheimer’s pathology,” Fox News reported.

Limitations in the study found by experts

According to Weber, “Based on the handful of cases they examined, the authors propose the idea of a ‘rare acquired’ Alzheimer’s, a third explanation for the beginnings of the disease along with sporadic Alzheimer’s and genetic Alzheimer’s.”

He further added, “However, the study population (eight in this paper) is very small, and these are the only known cases in the literature. Thus, this possible third type of Alzheimer’s is a novel idea, but needs replication and confirmation to add credibility,” Fox News reported.

The production of abnormal amyloid in the brain is new, which was proven by giving injections into animals’ brains, said Weber. He said, “We also transfer human Alzheimer’s genes into animals to initiate abnormal, Alzheimer’s-like processes in their brains — but these things do not happen in daily life or in routine medical procedures,” he said. “They are extraordinary occurrences.”

However, the kind of amyloid beta transfer reported in the UNC study is not usual, and “the scientific and clinical communities must understand the possible risks and ensure that all methods of pathogen transmission are eliminated,” emphasized Weber.

One of these methods and a common practice noticed by Weber is “complete and conscientious sterilization of surgical instruments.”

And added further, “Bottom line: We shouldn’t put amyloid-beta into people’s brains, either accidentally or on purpose,” he said. “And appropriate measures should be in place to ensure that doesn’t happen.”


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