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posted by janrinok on Saturday February 03, @07:07AM   Printer-friendly

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

A medical treatment given to children in the UK may have led to some developing Alzheimer’s disease decades later, new research out Monday suggests. The study presents evidence that at least five people contracted the neurodegenerative disorder from having received human growth hormones contaminated with rogue amyloid beta protein. The authors point out that Alzheimer’s cannot be caught person-to-person through conventional means, however, and this specific infection risk no longer exists today.

Starting in the 1950s, scientists learned how to extract human growth hormone (HGH) from the pituitary glands of cadavers. Unfortunately, the method only provided minute amounts of hormone at a time, which limited the supply of HGH available for medical and research purposes. As a result, its distribution was meticulously handled, and it was typically only given to treat the most severe growth-related conditions in children.

This remained the status quo for the next 30 years, with more than 20,000 children worldwide having received this form of cadaver-derived HGH. But in the mid-1980s, health officials in the U.S. and elsewhere began to get unusual reports of people coming down with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare but universally fatal neurodegenerative disease. These cases were happening in much younger people than typically seen with CJD, and it was soon discovered those affected shared a history of past HGH treatment. Within months of this discovery, the U.S. and other countries shut down their cadaver HGH programs.

These cases, as it turned out, were caused by HGH seeded with a person’s misfolded prions—mutinous proteins that eat away at the brain by gradually transforming normal prions into their misfolded form. It can take years to decades before the symptoms of a prion disease appear, explaining why it took so long for the connection to be discovered. As of today, there have been around 220 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease linked to cadaver-derived HGH, with some showing up to 40 years later.

[...] The paper details eight patients who visited the UCL’s National Prion Clinic. Five of them appear to have developed early onset Alzheimer’s, with a sixth having mild cognitive impairment. But none of the patients seemed to have known genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s to happen at a younger age or other shared factors besides a past history of HGH treatment.

Alzheimer’s is caused by the build-up of two misfolded proteins in the brain, amyloid beta and tau, with amyloid beta seen as the driving force of the two. The team’s past research has found amyloid beta inside the brains of people who died from HGH-caused Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, as well as inside samples of preserved HGH. And in the lab, they’ve been able to successfully cause mice to develop Alzheimer’s-like illness after exposing them to these contaminated samples.

Put all the pieces together, the study authors say, and it’s enough to show that “Alzheimer’s disease should now be recognized as a potentially transmissible disorder.”

[...] “It is important to stress that the circumstances through which we believe these individuals tragically developed Alzheimer’s are highly unusual, and to reinforce that there is no risk that the disease can be spread between individuals or in routine medical care,” said study author Jonathan Schott, a UCL neurologist and chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, in a statement from the university. “These findings do, however, provide potentially valuable insights into disease mechanisms, and pave the way for further research which we hope will further our understanding of the causes of more typical, late onset Alzheimer’s disease.”

More Information: Iatrogenic Alzheimer's disease in recipients of cadaveric pituitary-derived growth hormone
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02729-2.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, @07:32AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, @07:32AM (#1342917)

    Alzheimer’s is caused by the build-up of two misfolded proteins in the brain, amyloid beta and tau, with amyloid beta seen as the driving force of the two.

    Is there really evidence that it's caused by this and these amyloid proteins aren't a symptom or side effect of the disease? Couldn't there be different transmissible prions or infectious agents causing the disease?

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by janrinok on Saturday February 03, @08:08AM (1 child)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Saturday February 03, @08:08AM (#1342922) Journal

      While I understand that you have doubts, I have the scientific paper which is linked to at the end of the summary and your comment. While there may be other possibilities, as you have suggested, for the moment the weight of scientific information seems to be on the side of the "with amyloid beta seen as the driving force of the two" camp.

      We may in the future learn more and this may subsequently prove to be incorrect, but it is the best information that we have. If you have something to support your view then please share it. We, as a species, still know very little about how everything fits together in this universe. We make small steps in out attempts to learn more.

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by HiThere on Saturday February 03, @02:33PM

        by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Saturday February 03, @02:33PM (#1342959) Journal

        The problem is that treatments that remove(?) the Amyloid plaques don't keep Alzheimer's away. So it seems likely something else is involved.

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  • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Saturday February 03, @08:33AM (2 children)

    by darkfeline (1030) on Saturday February 03, @08:33AM (#1342932) Homepage

    I don't think "transmissible" means how it's being used here.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, @12:15PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, @12:15PM (#1342946)

      I don't think "transmissible" means how it's being used here.

      The T in Kuru stands for transmissible [wikipedia.org].

      Although ingestion of the prion particles can lead to the disease,[25] a high degree of transmission occurred if the prion particles could reach the subcutaneous tissue.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday February 05, @11:23PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday February 05, @11:23PM (#1343240)

      Transmissible means "cooties are real.'. If you didn't have the pleasure, children around here would declare "different" children to have "cooties " then shriek and run away from the identified "cooties carrier(s)" as if they have leprosy or something similar.

      Of course, the normal microbiomes both internal and external do affect behavior and development quite a bit, so the horrible nine year old"cooties calling girls" weren't far wrong...

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  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Saturday February 03, @02:58PM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Saturday February 03, @02:58PM (#1342966)

    The article I read yesterday was speculating they just transferred prions (think mad cow), not alzheimers.

    As for plaque in the brain, Derek Lowe (https://www.science.org/blogs/pipeline) discusses them fairly often. I suspect he now thinks plaque is a symptom, not a cause.

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