A study has found that patients may develop Alzheimer’s from specific medical treatments. The research findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, stated that there is “credible evidence” that the brain degenerative disease can be transmitted from person to person through surgical procedures. For example, a small number of patients who had received growth hormones from cadavers were later found to have developed amyloid-beta deposits, which are associated with Alzheimer’s development.
The patients died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and scientists say their deaths occurred before they reached middle age and, therefore, before the amyloid-beta deposits were able to develop into full-blown Alzheimer’s.
This is not the first suggestion that Alzheimer’s may be transmissible. In 2016, scientists reported that autopsies carried out on patients who had received skin grafts also “displayed some of the pathological signs that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” Notably, those patients likewise died from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD). The individuals were aged between 28 and 63, and doctors said both ages are generally considered too young to develop the amyloid-β protein plaques noted in their brains and blood vessels during autopsy.
Similarly, in 2018, neurologist John Collinge at University College London led research into people who had received growth hormones from cadaver pituitary glands and later developed early-onset dementia. Dr. Collinge reported that plaques of the sticky protein amyloid-β were noted in the brain in some patients. The protein was present in the hormone preparations previously administered to the patients, and doctors determined that these might have been “contaminated” and caused later brain damage.
The practice of transmitting hormones from cadavers to living subjects was phased out in the 1980s, and doctors emphasized that Alzheimer’s is not “contagious.”
In the US, the National Institutes of Health warns that more than 8,000 children received hormone treatment from cadavers between the 1960s and 1980s. The institute said it will launch an urgent investigation to discuss the issue and re-analyze available data.