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Scientists have shown that Alzheimer’s-causing proteins can spread through blood.
In an unprecedented study, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada have shown that healthy who shared blood with a mouse with Alzheimer’s plaques did indeed develop plaques of beta-amyloid protein in their blood.
The finding emerged from their study which also showed that Alzheimer’s could start in other parts of the body – like the liver or kidney – before traveling up to the brain like cancer.
However, lead author Professor Weihong Song said people should not be alarmed about Alzheimer’s being ‘caught’ by people who have had blood transfusions.
For the first time ever, scientists have shown that healthy mice sharing blood from Alzheimer’s-suffering mice do develop the disease (file image)
He said: ‘There will be amyloid protein passed between people through blood transfusions regardless of whether they have Alzheimer’s, because amyloid protein can be produced outside the brain.
‘However I believe the chances of developing Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain through blood transfusion from Alzheimer’s patients are slim because of very low level of amyloid exchange.’
While we do not know exactly how Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, forms, we do not that it involves a protein in the blood called beta-amyloid.
This protein cumulates into plaques, which clog up the brains of affected humans and gradually cripple their cognitive function.
Mice do not naturally develop Alzheimer’s, so the team led by Weihong Song infected the lab mice with the human version of beta-amyloid, which does turn into the crippling brain disease.
The researchers studied surgically conjoined mice, one of which was normal and the other modified to carry a mutant human Alzheimer’s gene that produces high levels of amyloid.
After remaining attached to their partners for a year, the normal mice developed Alzheimer’s disease.
Their brains were infected with toxic protein that had spread from the genetically modified mice via the animals’ shared blood circulation, the scientists believe.
The mice which received the amyloid began suffering Alzheimer’s-like damage including the death of brain cells in the memory centre or hippocampus.
‘The protein can get into the brain from a connected mouse and cause neurodegeneration,’ Professor Song said.
A separate study last year showed around 1.4 million people given blood transfusions from donors with dementia and Parkinson’s were no more likely to get the conditions.
Professor Tara Spires-Jones, from the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘This study was scientifically interesting in that it shows in mice that one of the pathological proteins that builds up in Alzheimer’s brains can get into the brain from the bloodstream over a period of many months of transfusion.
‘This is important for our understanding of biological changes and how toxic proteins may spread through the body, but this is very far removed from human Alzheimer’s disease. ‘
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