Blood test provides potential breakthrough in CJD testing

Scientists have developed a blood test, which could help to detect the human form of mad cow disease.

In a study published in ‘Nature’, the team from the University of Texas identified infectious, or rogue, prion proteins, believed to cause the fatal brain disease in hamsters.

The researchers are now working to develop the method so that it can be used to find the rogue prions in people who died from the human form of the disease, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD), using blood samples from British victims.

Commenting on the discovery, head of the research team, Professor Claudio Soto, said: “The concentration of infectious prion protein in blood is far too small to be detected by the methods used to detect it in the brain, but we know it’s still enough to spread the disease.”

The breakthrough has raised hopes that people could eventually be screened for vCJD. It is also hoped that the discovery could help protect people receiving blood transfusions and organ transplants from infection, as well as help experts trying to determine whether Britain faces a future vCJD epidemic.

Around 180 people have died from vCJD, since the condition was first seen in humans in 1995. The majority of those deaths occurred in the UK. It is believed that the condition is caused by eating meat infected with the agent that causes BSE or mad cow disease.

In November 2003, the British government announced the first case of a person who died after contracting vCJD from a blood transfusion.

The only way to confirm if vCJD is present in humans is via checks carried out after death.


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