Alzheimer could be passed on through surgery: study

Researchers say the spread of Alzheimer's disease might happen from person to person through medical procedures or contaminated surgical tools.

A study concluded yesterday that diseased tissue could be introduced into a healthy person through root canals or blood transfusions, for example, and acted as a ''seed'' that caused the abnormal protein that drove Alzheimer's disease to form in the brain, according to lead author John Collinge, a professor of neurology at University College London.

''What we need to consider is that in addition to there being sporadic Alzheimer's disease and inherited or familial Alzheimer's disease, there could also be acquired forms of Alzheimer's disease,'' Collinge told reporters.

Researchers added that the protein could also stick to the metal surfaces of surgical instruments and was resistant to typical sterilisation methods.

The study, published in the journal Nature, was the first to suggest that the degenerative neurological disease could spread from person to person. The condition had long been believed to be caused only by age and genetics.

Calling the findings a  ''paradigm shift,'' Collinge stressed that his team's findings did not mean the devastating disease was contagious.

''You could have . . . different ways you have these protein seeds generated in your brain,'' he added. ''Either they happen spontaneously, an unlucky event as you age, or you have got a faulty gene or you've been exposed to a medical accident.''

The controversial research comes as the first first evidence of dementia transmission in humans through microscopic protein fragments.

The findings led to speculation about the safety of some operations and dental treatments.

The researchers further said blood donations needed to be investigated, although they were not currently considered a meaningful risk.

The UK scientists were investigating a rare form of "iatrogenic" Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (iCJD), a brain-destroying condition spread by contaminated surgical instruments and procedures, when they made their discovery.

They studied the brains of eight patients who died from the disease after receiving pituitary growth hormone extracted from cadavers.

They found that six had clear molecular hallmark of Alzheimer's - sticky clumps of fragmented protein called amyloid beta that formed among neurons and on the walls of blood vessels. The deposits were widespread in four cases and only one patient was not affected at all.

The individuals were aged between 36 to 51 and none had a family history of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Last month, Sona Patel, professor at the Seton Hall University in New Jersey has been awarded a $380,000 grant to carry out research that might lead to a fast, low-cost test to diagnose patients with Alzheimer's by their voices, even over the phone.(See: Researcher seeks to develop voice test to detect Alzheimer's early)