Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have
made initial progress towards the development of a blood test for mad
cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE) in animals and
variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. Currently, there
is no way to test living animals or humans for these diseases, with post-mortem
brain dissection the only mode of identification.
Because abnormal prion proteins are responsible for mad cow disease
and vCJD, the research focused on prion detection. The research team,
led by neurology professor Claudio Soto, PhD, discovered a way of multiplying
the number of prions in blood samples, making possible the detection
of the disease in experimental animals. Of the 18 hamsters purposely
infected with prions, 16 were positively screened for the disease using
the blood test. In addition, 12 hamsters not infected with prions, tested
negative. Findings were published online August 28, 2005 by the journal
Mad cow in animals and vCJD in humans result in very serious neurological
symptoms and death. There is currently no available treatment. Theoretically,
if a person was to become infected with vCJD there exists the possibility
of them donating blood and bringing the disease into the blood supply.
Dr. Soto’s research was supported by the National Institutes of
Health and the Intramural John Sealy Endowed Fund for Biomedical Research.
He intends to follow-up by applying his prion-detection technique to
cattle and humans. It his hoped that a reliable blood test for BSE or
vCJD would help detect the disease before the onset of symptoms. “It
is very important because we could have an idea of the magnitude of the
problem. We might be sitting on a time bomb and 20 years from now it
could be too late. If we know today there are many people infected, companies
will start to look for therapies,” said Soto.
Source: The Associated Press, August 29, 2005