In the 1980s, Britain had an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, which spread to Europe and other areas. Two cows have been found with the illness in the United States.
The human form of the illness is called variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD) and is believed to have originated from eating infected beef. The extent of the vCJD epidemic is not known, but it has killed about 180 people worldwide. Symptoms can take years to develop.
These diseases are caused by agents called prions and until now, dissecting the brains of victims has offered the only way to detect such brain-wasting diseases in humans.
Researchers led by neurology professor Claudio Soto at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston report in the September issue of the Nature Medicine a new method of multiplying the number of prions in a blood sample so a blood test then can detect them.
“We have shown here we can detect (prions) in the blood of experimental animals, the next step is to demonstrate we can do the same with humans and cattle,” said professor Soto.