Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 11th 2015 Contents A28
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, September 11, 2015
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
People may be able to contract Alzheimer s dur-
ing certain medical procedures in the same way
as the brain disease CJD, say researchers.
Contaminated surgical instruments or injections,
such as human growth hormone, may pose a rare
but potential risk, they speculate in Nature.
The theoretical hunch comes from post-mortem
brain studies in eight patients.
The UK experts stress that their findings are
inconclusive and do not mean Alzheimer s is infec-
People cannot catch Alzheimer s from coming
into contact with other people with the condition.
Alzheimer s is a type of dementia that is more
common with increasing age. People with a family
history of the condition are also at increased risk
of developing it.
In Alzheimer s, brain cells die off and, over time,
the brain shrinks, affecting many of its functions.
Scientists can also see the effects of the disease
under the microscope.
There are two telltale signs---abnormal clusters
of protein fragments, called amyloid plaques, and
tangles of another protein known as tau.
It was when Dr John Collinge and colleagues from
University College London were studying the brains
of recently deceased CJD patients that they stumbled
across one of these Alzheimer-like signs.
Seven of the eight patients they studied had amy-
loid deposits in the brain, which was surprising
given their relatively young ages (between 31 and
51) and the fact that they had no family history of
All of the deceased had caught their CJD from
contaminated human growth hormone injections,
given to them as children.
This treatment was withdrawn in the UK in 1985
once the risk of CJD infection became clear. Extra
checks and measures, such as using disposable sur-
gical instruments, are now carried out in NHS hos-
pitals to minimise the risk.
Dr Collinge believes amyloid could be spread acci-
dentally during medical and surgical procedures in
the same way as CJD, via contaminating protein
"seeds" or prions that grow in the brain.
Animal studies support this idea, but caution is
None of the eight autopsy patients had full-blown
Alzheimer s disease and it is not clear if they would
ever have developed dementia.
There is no proof that the growth hormone injec-
tions were the cause of the amyloid.
Dr Collinge says more research is needed. He has
already contacted the Department of Health to see
if it has any old stocks of human growth hormone
that he can check for the presence of amyloid "seeds".
He said: "I do not think there is any cause for
alarm. No-one should delay or not go for surgery
because of this."
The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame
Sally Davies, added: "I can reassure people that the
NHS has extremely stringent procedures in place
to minimise infection risk from surgical equipment,
and patients are very well protected."
Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer s
Research UK, said: "While the findings sound con-
cerning, it s important to remember that human-
derived hormone injections are no longer used and
were replaced with synthetic forms since the link
to CJD was discovered in the 1980s."
"Current measures in place to limit contamination
with the prion protein and minimise CJD risk from
hospital procedures are very rigorous and the risk
of developing CJD from surgical contamination is
extremely low. (BBC)
'Transmittable Alzheimer's' concept raised
Perhaps research papers like this one should come with their own
health warning: "may cause unnecessary alarm".
That's not to discredit their scientific worth, the findings are
interesting and important for furthering understanding.
But they must be interpreted with caution.
There are too many 'ifs' to draw any firm conclusions.
The observations are from a small number of deceased patients who
had a treatment that hasn't been used for years.
Although it's still not clear exactly why some people develop
Alzheimer's while others do not, experts agree that you can't "catch it"
like a cold.
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