Scottish scientists have developed a new technique to diagnose mad cow disease in humans.
Researchers at Edinburgh University say that the currently available screening process for the brain condition is not completely reliable, and causes specialists to wrongly tell people that they are suffering from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
They insist that the new technique developed by them can detect people having fatal levels of abnormal proteins called prions, which kill off brain cells and are thought to cause the disease.
Dubbed as 'Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification', the new technique works by boosting the replication of prions, so that they can be easily detected in test samples of the brain tissues.
For the diagnosis, a test sample is exposed to repeated rounds of ultrasound, as a result of which the prions break up into more numerous, smaller particles.
The researchers, however, concede that further study is needed to determine whether the technique that has been applied to brain tissue can be applied to other tissues like the ones taken from blood, which may be used in tests for the disease.
"While this method, due to the length of time it takes to carry out, is unlikely to produce a rapid screening test that could be implemented in blood donation centres, it may well be suitable as a confirmatory test that could be conducted at a national centre," the Scotsman quoted Professor James Ironside of the National CJD Surveillance Unit at the university, as saying.
"One of the issues common to screening tests is that of 'false' positive results. By developing a reliable confirmatory test, such as this one, the impact of these false positives can be minimised," he added.