It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains—at least, that’s according to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Although there is, at present, a scarcity of zombies, there is no scarcity of brains. For the living—especially us who use our brains quite often—it is imperative that we keep it this way. As it is, neurodegenerative disorders threaten to turn many a sensible person into a zombie by the end of his lifetime—not that we didn’t already know that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is one of the most bitter lottery draws of old age.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder among the elderly. It’s characterized not just by frequently misplaced car keys, but by frequently misplaced memories and thoughts and sequences of events. Though we’re not sure of its cause, we are sure of what it looks like—and it isn’t pretty. Clinically, AD patients present with misfolded beta-amyloid proteins that build up between nerve cells the same way transes build up until the week before block exams. Similarly, the more “pathognomonic” neurofibrillary tangles cook up inside neurons similar to the brewing anxieties and panic attacks when you realize it’s already 2 weeks before exams. With much imagination, the disease is analogous to zombies chewing nummy brains, realizing these brains taste awful, then spitting out dysfunctional components and disrupting the cognitive process as a result.
We can’t catch it the same way we catch coughs or bad karma, but what scientists have recently found sounds a lot like science fiction. New research suggests that Alzheimer’s Disease is transmissible. In an autopsy study of eight individuals infected with iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease acquired from injections of human growth hormone, there was evidence of zombie goldilocks syndrome amyloid-β deposition in the grey matter, typical of that seen in Alzheimer’s. The findings suggest that seeding of amyloid-β may have been transmitted when patients were injected. Furthermore, surgical procedures could very well transmit amyloid-β seeds to other patients since amyloid-β is not easily removed from metal by standard sterilizing techniques.
What makes this more interesting is that the autopsy was conducted in patients 36 to 51 years old—relatively young to have developed Alzheimer’s. In fact, the patients’ age range further reinforces the idea that the amyloid-β build-up was primarily caused by infection.
These findings do not, of course, warranty mass panic and general avoidance of all prickly metal objects. It seems like a scene out of Walking Dead, but it’s a far cry from infectious zombie diseases. Doubtless, more studies will be conducted (hopefully) before we all become unwittingly affected ourselves.