Brain surgery could ‘spread’ Alzheimer’s disease

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Brain surgery may ‘spread’ Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests today.

Amyloid proteins, which have previously been associated with the condition, may be transmitted on poorly cleaned surgical instruments used during such procedures, a study implies.

After analysing four people aged 30-to-57 with brain bleeds caused by the build-up of amyloid plaques, researchers discovered they all underwent brain surgery when they were younger. 

This may explain why the amyloid protein, which normally only affects people over 65, accumulated in the younger patients, the scientists add.

Previous studies suggest tiny amounts of amyloid proteins can ‘stick’ to steel wires and be transmitted into animals’ brains.

Past findings also show abnormal proteins responsible for the degenerative brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be transmitted between patients during certain medical procedures.

The researchers add, however, the build-up of amyloid proteins does not necessarily indicate Alzheimer’s disease, with none of the study’s participants showing signs of early-onset dementia.

A separate investigation by the same researchers revealed four men with a history of head trauma who underwent brain surgery as children also had these amyloid build-ups. 

Lead author Professor Sebastian Brandner, from University College London, said: ‘We have found new evidence that amyloid beta pathology may be transmissible. 

‘This does not mean that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted, as we did not find any significant amount of pathological tau protein which is the other hallmark protein of Alzheimer’s disease.

‘The possibility of pathological protein transmission, while rare, should factor into reviews of sterilisation and safety practices for surgical procedures.’

Study author Dr Zane Jaunmuktane added: ‘Neurosurgery is becoming increasingly common in older individuals. 

‘As amyloid beta pathology increases in brains with age, this raises the potential for onward transmission of protein pathology to other individuals in the same hospital.’ 

The researchers plan to investigate the subject in a larger study.   

On the back of these findings, Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘While it is too early to draw any firm conclusions from such a small study, the finding that people with a rare amyloid-related disease all had brain operations early in life raises the possibility of amyloid having been passed from one person to another during neurosurgery.

‘Any potential link will need to be explored in much larger studies, but it is important to remember that people receive vital and often life-saving brain surgery every day in the UK and any potential risk of disease from these procedures is minimal. 

‘Since the surgeries relating to these findings were carried out, strict guidelines surrounding the sterilisation and use of equipment during surgery have been introduced and continue to be evaluated.

‘This study didn’t look at whether those who underwent neurosurgery in childhood went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease and there is currently no evidence that Alzheimer’s can be transmitted through brain surgery.’ 

For the first part of the investigation, the researchers analysed the medical records of the four study participants.

At the time of the analysis, one of the patients was 57, while the remainder were in their 30s. 

It is very rare for amyloid plaques to accumulate in non-elderly people. 

The findings were published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica. 

This comes after research released in January 2018 suggested scientists have created a hybrid diet that prevents dementia.

A combination of the Mediterranean way of eating and the so-called low-fat DASH diet maintains at-risk people’s thinking, reasoning and memories, a study found.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension. The eating plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, whole grains and fish. 

Followers of such eating habits, in a diet known as MIND, are required to consume nine foods or drinks regularly, including at least one portion of green leafy vegetables a day, berries twice a week and even a daily glass of wine, the research adds.

It also allows dieters to munch on sweets and pastries, providing they limit themselves to just four times a week, the study found.

When stroke survivors who suffered cognitive decline followed the MIND diet for up to 13 years, their risk of developing dementia significantly reduced, with researchers stressing such eating habits will also benefit the brains of healthy people.

Study author Dr Laurel Cherian from Rush University, said: ‘The goal is to emphasize foods that will not only lower our risk of heart attacks and stroke, but make our brains as resilient as possible to cognitive decline.’

 

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