Is Alzheimer's disease contagious? Medical professionals are pushing back against headlines this week that suggest the disease can be passed along via transmissible clumps of proteins — a theory laid out in a study published in the science journal Nature on Wednesday
According to the study, prions — or proteinaceous infectious particles — can cause Alzheimer's when they no longer function properly and then spread throughout the brain, Popular Science reported.
The prions can be transmitted to people via surgical procedures or blood transfusions.
Researchers involved the study found that the transmissible prions in eight patients appeared to make some more vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease along with CJD, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Scientists theorized that the prions might have increased the production of amyloid beta, a driver for Alzheimer's.
"Human transmission of prion disease has occurred as a result of a range of medical and surgical procedures worldwide as well as by endocannibalism in Papua New Guinea, with incubation periods that can exceed five decades," the Nature study stated.
Some, though, complained about headlines in the news media suggesting that Alzheimer's can be contagious.
Claudio Soto, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told Science magazine
that the study did not provide any "epidemiological evidence" of Alzheimer's being passed to patients and was "something that needs to be investigated."
"Headlines on Thursday (Sept. 10) in the Daily Mirror, The Sun, the Metro, the Daily Mail, and The Telegraph claimed that Alzheimer's disease may be transmitted by surgery and blood transfusions," stated a note on the website SenseAboutScience.org
"The researchers found a feature common to Alzheimer's disease, amyloid protein, but not the disease itself."
The website quoted Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research U.K., who also attempted to clarify the research.
"There is currently no evidence to suggest that the amyloid protein could be passed through dental surgery or blood transfusions," Karran stated, per SenseAboutScience.org. "While it's unusual for people of the ages studied in this research to have amyloid in the brain, the build-up of this protein is just one feature of Alzheimer's and we don't know whether these people would have gone on to develop the disease."
Others complained about the media coverage of the study on social media.
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