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Texas Researcher Works Toward Blood Test for Mad Cow and vCJD

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 Nature Medicine.

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


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