In a recent paper that appeared in Nature Medicine, Banerjee and colleagues find potential evidence for a very rare but transmissible form of Alzheimer’s disease (Banerjee G et al, Nat Med 2024 doi: 10.1038/s41591-023-02729-2. Epub ahead of print).
The study describes five patients with Alzheimer’s disease out of the more than 1800 people who received growth hormone from human cadavers. The practice of using growth hormone from deceased individuals was stopped in 1985 after it was recognized that some batches were contaminated with proteins causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It turns out that some of these lots were also unfortunately tainted with beta-amyloid protein, one of the problem proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.
The subjects in the observational study all developed Alzheimer’s dementia at young ages, although several of them had complicated histories, including intellectual disability, which may have been a contributing factor. The young age of these individuals suggested they didn’t have the usual form of Alzheimer’s associated with older age.
Overall, the research points to a very rare form of transmissible Alzheimer’s disease occurring in certain situations. It also raises the question of whether beta-amyloid protein can produce more bad protein, leading to cascading memory loss and worsening Alzheimer’s pathology. Hopefully, this study will lead to a better understanding of the mechanism behind Alzheimer’s so that better therapeutics can be developed.
It’s important to communicate with patients that Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious, and people can’t “catch” it from someone else or through routine care, tests, and procedures.
For more information, see The Carlat Geriatric Psychiatry Report.