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Scientists document first-ever transmitted Alzheimer’s cases, tied to no-longer-used medical procedure

In a recent and groundbreaking study published in Nature Medicine, a group of patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s has provided new insights into the perplexing world of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals, who didn’t exhibit the typical symptoms and lacked the usual genetic markers associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s, all had one thing in common – they were exposed to growth hormone derived from human cadavers during their childhood. This hormone was historically used to treat conditions causing short stature.

The study has uncovered a fascinating revelation: the transplanted hormone accidentally introduced beta-amyloid proteins, a significant indicator of Alzheimer’s, into the recipients’ brains. Over time, these proteins evolved into disease-causing plaques, marking the first instances of transmitted Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery challenges our existing understanding and opens up intriguing questions about the origins of this complex condition.

It’s important to note that while these cases are categorized as iatrogenic, resulting from a medical procedure, Alzheimer’s is not contagious through regular means, and the hormone treatment in question has been obsolete for over four decades. The study focused on only five Alzheimer’s patients out of a larger group of over 1,800 individuals who received cadaveric growth hormone in the U.K. from 1959 to 1985.

Experts emphasize the rarity of such cases but highlight their significance in unraveling the mechanisms behind the disease. The findings suggest parallels between Alzheimer’s and human prion diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the propagation of misfolded proteins. Despite the acknowledged role of beta-amyloid, the study prompts researchers to explore additional factors contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s.

While the broader public health impact may be limited, the study underscores the importance of maintaining stringent medical practices, including the sterilization of neurosurgical instruments, to prevent the potential transmission of disease-causing agents. Beyond the specific cases examined, this research reignites discussions around the multifaceted origins of Alzheimer’s.

In summary, these rare instances of transmitted Alzheimer’s provide fresh perspectives on unconventional factors influencing the disease and encourage a reevaluation of established theories. As the scientific community delves deeper into this groundbreaking research, our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease is poised to undergo significant transformation.

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