The (UK) Daily Telegraph (August 28, 2010): Alzheimer's Risk 'Could Be Increased by Surgery'

Publication Date: 
Sat, 08/28/2010

Many doctors already suspect there may be a link between surgery and the onset of Alzheimer's.

Previous studies have suggested that between 10 and 30 percent of elderly people who undergo surgery suffer memory problems afterwards, but it has not been established whether these are a short-term response to physical trauma, or the beginnings of dementia.

Cognitive problems, ranging from memory loss to delirium, have been found most commonly when elderly people have undergone heart surgery, but also following other operations.

It is not known if the procedures themselves, or the body's response to major trauma, spark changes in the brain.

The latest research, conducted at Imperial College London and due to be published in the journal Critical Care Medicine next month, shows that the brains of mice who underwent a surgical procedure showed the presence of protein "tangles" in the brain which are associated with Alzheimer's disease in humans.

Because normal mice do not develop Alzheimer's disease, the new two-year study, also being led by Imperial College, will examine genetically modified mice, in an attempt to see whether the tangles - clusters of protein that form in nerve cells, which are present after surgery go on to trigger the onset of dementia.

The study will also examine whether the use of certain drugs - such as statins, used to protect against heart disease - and the active ingredient of a herbal remedy called Celastrol, could reduce the risks for those undergoing surgery.

In the recent study on mice, Celastrol, was seen to reduce inflammation in the brain.

Researchers said if either drug appeared to lower the risks of dementia in modified mice undergoing surgery, furhter trials would be required to see if this worked in humans, and also to see if it could protect the brains of the wider population, not just those undergoing operations.