A growth hormone given to children that was banned in 1985 has been shown to have caused Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has revealed.
The hormone, derived from the pituitary gland of human corpses, was known as c-hGH or cadaver-derived human growth hormone.
It was used to treat at least 1,848 people of short stature in the UK between 1959 and 1985.
It was banned after some batches were contaminated with infectious proteins, or prions, which had caused Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) a brain disease, in some people.
CJD normally proves fatal within eight months. A variant of CJD was known as mad cow disease
It has now been discovered that this treatment also left prematurely developed deposits of the amyloid-beta protein in participants’ brains, which is the cause of Alzheimer’s.
A team from University College London Hospital have now shown that at least five recipients of c-hGH developed Alzheimer’s as a result.
Professor John Collinge from UCLH said: “There is no suggestion whatsoever that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted between individuals during activities of daily life or routine medical care.
“The patients we have described were given a specific and long-discontinued medical treatment which involved injecting patients with material now known to have been contaminated with disease-related proteins.
“However, the recognition of transmission of amyloid-beta pathology in these rare situations should lead us to review measures to prevent accidental transmission via other medical or surgical procedures, in order to prevent such cases occurring in future.
“Importantly, our findings also suggest that Alzheimer’s and some other neurological conditions share similar disease processes to CJD, and this may have important implications for understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the future.”
To get their results, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the team studied eight people referred to UCLH’s National Prion Clinic at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who had all been given this treatment in childhood.
They found that five of these people had symptoms of dementia, and either had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or would meet the diagnostic criteria for this condition.
Another person was found to have met the criteria for mild cognitive impairment, and all these people were between 38 and 55 years old when they started having neurological symptoms.
The unusually young age at which these patients developed symptoms suggests they did not have the usual sporadic Alzheimer’s which is associated with old age.
In the five patients in whom samples were available for genetic testing, the team also ruled out inherited Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers stress that this is extremely rare, and now that the treatment is no longer in use there is no risk of any new transmission.
Professor Jonathan Schott said: “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.
“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.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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