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Posts tagged ‘prion disease’

In the news: Could Alzheimer’s proteins be passed between people?

Research part-funded by the MRC and published in Nature indicates that the Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein amyloid could have been passed to people treated with human-derived growth hormone in the 1960s and 70s. In this blog post originally published on the Alzheimer’s Research UK blog, Dr Laura Phipps explains the research and what it might mean. 

Representation of beta-amyloid plaques

Representation of beta-amyloid plaques (Image: vestque on Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0)


In the news today, we’re hearing about a UK research study that has suggested the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, could have been passed between people in historic treatments with human-derived growth hormone in the 60s and 70s. This is one of the first suggestions that amyloid could pass between humans in a similar way to the prion protein responsible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). In this blog, we’ll get to grips with the findings and what they might mean.

What did the study show?

Researchers based at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Queen Square in London, University College London and the MRC Prion and Clinical Trials Units have been studying people who received human-derived growth hormone taken from deceased people between 1958 and 1985.

Around 1,800 people in the UK received this hormone, often used to treat children with stunted growth. However, around 4% of people in the UK who’d received the injections went onto develop CJD. This was still only 65 people, but more than you’d expect considering only around 1 in every million people in the population develop CJD each year. Researchers at the time concluded that some of the donations had been contaminated with the prion protein responsible for causing the fatal neurodegenerative disease. In response, the use of human-derived growth hormone was stopped and replaced with a synthetic form in 1985. Read more

Behind the picture: Proving the link between BSE and vCJD

Sometimes the most unremarkable-looking images turn out to tell remarkable stories. Katherine Nightingale spoke to Dr Jon Wadsworth at the MRC Prion Unit to find out how this humble picture of proteins contains one of the most high-profile health discoveries of the 1990s.

A Western blot of various prion disease patient samples

(Image copyright: Professor John Collinge, MRC Prion Unit, UCL Institute of Neurology)


Even for those schooled in the art of the western blot, this image might not look like much. In fact, at first glance, it may seem even less remarkable to a trained eye – just another piece of film with its ladders of proteins.

In fact, this image, taken in 1996, represents the first clear evidence that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had passed from cows to humans in the food chain to cause a type of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) never seen before. Read more