Last year, researchers in the UK reported autopsy results that suggested that Alzheimer’s disease might be transmitted during certain medical treatments. The scientific community met the report with skepticism, as no real research had been conducted up until then. Skepticism is the heart of science; without more work, it is possible that other factors were at play. However, a new report in January seems to support the earlier findings.
How Alzheimer’s works
No one knows what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but we have learned a great deal about the effects. The disease disrupts the way the brain works at the chemical and electrical level. This happens when protein clusters, called amyloid plaques, build up between nerve cells. At the same time, twisted proteins build up between nerve cells. Over time, nerve cell death leads to loss of brain matter.
Amyloid plaques are observed after the disease is fairly progressed, and these plaques are what have researchers worried. The report in January detailed the autopsies of 7 people who had died as a result of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare brain-wasting disorder. All 7 of the people autopsied had received surgical grafts of a brain membrane years earlier. The grafts were unfortunately contaminated with a protein responsible for CJD.
According to a report in Gizmodo, “Five of the seven brains analyzed also showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This was odd because the individuals, age 28 to 63, were too young to have developed the amyloid plaques indicative of the neurological disorder… This suggests that the ‘seeds’ of certain neurological diseases can be transmitted during certain medical procedures—or even through contaminated surgical instruments.”
The earlier autopsy report found that victims of CJD had acquired the disease from a growth hormone made from the glands of cadavers, some of which were contaminated with the proteins that cause the disease. While this growth hormone is no longer made the same way, it still remains a cause for concern.
Knowledge is power
The real danger is that amyloid plaques are sticky, and standard sterilization techniques don’t work on them. This means that it is possible to transfer amyloid plaques through surgery. However, these findings are actually a good thing. Neuropathologist Herbert Budka, co-author of the latest paper, told Nature News, “It is our job as doctors to see in advance what might become a problem in the clinic.”
We at Crandall & Pera Law support all research efforts into health concerns that affect our friends, family and clients. If you have questions about medical malpractice, we invite you to contact us at one of our locations throughout Ohio or Kentucky