11 April 2024

A heritable form of Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted through stem cell transplants, researchers have warned recently.

The risk of transmission has only been established in a mouse study, but the Canadian scientists say it raises the issue of screening human donors for the risk of the disease.

In their study, researchers at the University of British Columbia performed haematopoietic stem cell transplants from donor mice that carry a variant of the human amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene.

Writing in Stem Cell Reports, the research team say that recipient mice who also carried the APP gene mutation developed Alzheimer’s disease at an accelerated rate.

The disease even affected normal mice that lacked the APP gene prior to transplant, who otherwise would not have been expected to develop Alzheimer’s.

The researchers say this is strong evidence that the donor cells caused the disease and can transfer disease to healthy individuals.

It is not yet clear whether the same phenomenon occurs in humans. Nevertheless, study leader Dr Wilfred Jefferies said: “As we continue to explore this mechanism, Alzheimer’s disease may be the tip of the iceberg and we need to have far better controls and screening of the donors used in blood, organ and tissue transplants as well as in the transfers of human derived stem cells or blood products.”

Dr Jefferies added: “In this study, we examined bone marrow and stem cells transplantation. However, next it will be important to examine if inadvertent transmission of disease takes place during the application of other forms of cellular therapies, as well as to directly examine the transfer of disease from contaminated sources, independent from cellular mechanisms.”


Singh CSB, Johns KM, Kari S, Munro L, Mathews A, Fenninger F, Pfeifer CG, Jefferies WA. (2024) “Conclusive Demonstration of Iatrogenic Alzheimer’s Disease Transmission in a Model of Stem Cell Transplantation.” Stem Cell Reports, doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2024.02.012.

Link: https://www.cell.com/stem-cell-reports/fulltext/S2213-6711(24)00049-3

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