Blood test discovery to identify sufferers of vCJD
A BREAKTHROUGH by scientists will make it easier for experts working on tests for variant CJD to detect the disease.
The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and experts in the United States have discovered a technique to concentrate abnormal prions, associated with vCJD, in the blood, offering a way of establishing their presence.
At the moment, it is only possible to detect these prions, which confirm that someone has the human form of the disease, after the sufferer has died. This means blood donations cannot be screened for the disease.
Despite no evidence that vCJD can be passed on through donations, the UK has imported plasma from the US and Germany for the past four years as a precaution.
Last year, it emerged that almost 2,000 patients had received blood from a donor later diagnosed with the human form of mad cow disease. More than 300 haemophiliacs received letters informing them they may have been given potentially infected blood products, but other patients were not notified because of the difficulty in tracking them down.
It is hoped the technique to concentrate abnormal prions developed by the transfusion service and the biotechnology companies Gradipore and Q-One Biotech, will lead to a test to screen blood for vCJD.
Dr Ian MacGregor, a senior scientist in the research and development directorate of the transfusion service, said: "We have been impressed with this technology and these studies indicate its potential."
Frances Hill, the secretary of the Human BSE Foundation, said: "From the blood screening point of view, developing a test for variant CJD would be excellent, and from a health point of view, we need to know how many people there are carrying the disease.
"But we also have to be aware that young people who develop the disease may not want to be diagnosed, as it could affect mortgages and life insurance and open up a can of worms."
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