June 16, 2024
Medical Treatments

New Evidence Shows Alzheimer’s Disease Cases Acquired from Past Medical Treatments

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) have discovered five cases of Alzheimer’s disease that were believed to have originated from medical treatments received decades ago. This finding, reported in a Nature Medicine paper, provides the first evidence of medically acquired Alzheimer’s disease, specifically resulting from the transmission of the amyloid-beta protein.

While Alzheimer’s disease is typically a sporadic condition that occurs in late adult life or, rarely, an inherited condition due to a faulty gene, the individuals described in the paper were all treated with cadaver-derived human growth hormone (c-hGH) as children. This hormone was extracted from the pituitary glands of deceased individuals and was used to treat various causes of short stature among at least 1,848 people in the UK between 1959 and 1985.

In 1985, c-hGH was withdrawn from use due to the discovery that some batches were contaminated with prions, which are infectious proteins known to cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). It was then replaced with a synthetic growth hormone that did not carry the risk of transmitting CJD.

Previous research from these scientists revealed that individuals who developed CJD due to c-hGH treatment also exhibited premature deposits of the amyloid-beta protein in their brains. In 2018, they demonstrated that archived samples of c-hGH were contaminated with amyloid-beta protein and, when injected into laboratory mice, transmitted amyloid-beta pathology despite being stored for decades. These findings prompted the suggestion that individuals exposed to contaminated c-hGH, who did not develop CJD but lived longer, might eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent paper documents the cases of eight individuals who had been treated with c-hGH during childhood and were referred to UCLH’s National Prion Clinic at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Five of these individuals exhibited symptoms of dementia and either had an existing diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or met the diagnostic criteria for the condition. Another individual presented with mild cognitive impairment. The age at which these patients developed symptoms was unusually young, indicating that they did not have the typical sporadic Alzheimer’s associated with old age. Genetic testing ruled out inherited Alzheimer’s disease in the five patients from whom samples were available.

Biomarker analyses supported the diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease in two patients, and suggested Alzheimer’s in another individual. An autopsy analysis also confirmed Alzheimer’s pathology in one patient, further solidifying the link between the prior c-hGH treatment and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

This groundbreaking research underscores the importance of identifying potential sources of Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding the transmission of the amyloid-beta protein and its role in disease development will aid in developing preventive measures and potential treatment strategies for this devastating neurodegenerative disease.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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