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The risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease may be increased for those who undergo surgery using instruments previously used in brain operations, researchers from University College London (UCL) have warned.
Director of the Medical Research Council prion unit at UCL Prof John Collinge said although the disease is not contagious, there appears to be a possibility that the proteins that cause the disease could linger on surgical instruments used in brain operations and be spread to other patients.
“We don’t know if any cases of Alzheimer’s disease are related to medical or surgical procedures, but in my view we should take a precautionary approach,” he told reporters.
Prof Collinge stated that it is unlikely blood transfusions would spread the proteins, but extra steps should be taken in the sterilisation of instruments to ensure proteins are not able to persist.
The research involved investigating the cases of the small number of patients who succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) after being injected with contaminated growth hormones taken from cadavers between 1958 and 1985.
Most of these CJD cases were the result of cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), a condition that differs from Alzheimer's as it spreads through blood vessels rather than between cells.
Tests on mice showed that plaques could be built up when injected with the proteins, although none of them went on to develop dementia.
“With CAA and probably with Alzheimer’s disease there may be certain circumstances, though hopefully rare, that transmission of the pathology can occur,” Prof Collinge concluded. UCL will now carry out further research to establish if there is a genuine risk of contracting Alzheimer's through surgery.
As a result, he added, it is important to "think about better means to decontaminate surgical instruments to remove this risk".
However, the professor insisted that nobody should not undergo neurological surgery because of the small risk involved.
This view was supported by Bart de Strooper, director of the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL, even though he raised the possibility that Parkinson's Disease might also potentially be transmitted this way.
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
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