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Can Alzheimer's proteins be spread via medical procedures?

This computer artwork shows the brain’s neural network represented by lines and flashes. A new study indicates Alzheimer’s markers in the brain may have been spread via a protein. Photo by Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library and Getty Images

From 1958 to 1985, 30,000 people worldwide were exposed to a contagious, highly fatal brain disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. These infections were caused by a malevolent protein - called a prion - that was unknowingly present in human growth hormone treatments given to these patients. (Most were children with growth defects.) Because the disease can take decades to manifest, the fallout continues, with the most recent of 229 deaths occurring just three years ago.

Today, scientists from England report another possible consequence of these tainted hormone treatments: Alzheimer's disease. When they examined postmortem tissue from eight of these Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease patients, they found amyloid-beta plaques, one of the marquee features of Alzheimer's disease, spread widely across some of the brain specimens.

"What we find, very much to our surprise, is that of these eight patients, four of them are really quite significant in severe deposition of Alzheimer amyloid protein in their brain, so-called beta-amyloid," said University College London neurologist John Collinge, who led the study published today in the journal Nature. Three other patients had