The U.S. research team led by Professor Claudio Soto from the University of Texas says it can find the infectious 'prion' proteins behind such diseases in the blood of experimental animals. The test helps to detect the proteins that cause Mad Cow disease, raising hopes that people could be screened for the human form of the condition, Creutzfeldt-Jackobson disease [vCJD]. The researchers are now refining the method to find prions in people who died from vCJD, using blood samples from British victims. The new test could protect patients receiving blood transfusions and organ transplants, and help experts to predict the size of any future vCJD epidemic. About 180 people worldwide have died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jackobson disease, which is linked to eating mad cow disease infected meat. Scientists warn there could be many more deaths in the coming decades because the disease has an incubation period of up to 40 years. There is currently no reliable way to detect vCJD in blood, with the diseases only confirmed after dearth.
Professor said, "We believe in six months or so we should have the technology optimized to detect prions in human blood. The next step is to make sure we can detect them in blood before the clinical symptoms appear."
A blood test would be the simplest way to screen donors and keep infected meat from entering the human food chain, but the prion concentration in blood is too small for it to be detected. So, the researchers have taken a different approach of using a biochemical techniques to amplify the quantity of prions in diseased blood millions of times, making them easier to detect. Scientists believe the BSE epidemic of the 1980s could have exposed millions of people in the UK and Europe to infectious prions. "We want to know what we're facing in 10 or 20 years from now. Let us see whether we have thousands or hundreds of people infected.
We have to be prepared," Prof. Soto said. Discovering that a large scale epidemic was looming would prompt drug companies to search harder for treatments, he added.