Scientists at the Swiss biotechnology firm, Serono, have devised a new technique that will lead to earlier detection of mad cow disease, or BSE, and other animal and human brain disorders.This content was published on June 13, 2001 - 22:16
"This is a major scientific breakthrough and has potential applications in improving tests for prion diseases," said Silvano Fumero, senior vice president of research and pharmaceutical development at Geneva-based Serono.
Abnormal brain proteins or prions cause mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), as well as its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
Prion diseases are difficult to diagnose and study.
So far, the fatal brain disorders are diagnosed after death by an examination of brain tissue. Now, the new method, which is applied to existing tests, has improved sensitivity levels, making it possible to detect BSE earlier.
A team of Serono scientists, lead by Dr Claudio Soto, has cultivated mutated prions in the laboratory for the first time and developed a method to replicate them to high enough levels to detect the disease at an earlier stage.
"What we have done is one step before detection. We have amplified the material that can be then applied to any existing detection systems," Soto explained.
"It boosts the amount of the material and therefore increases several hundred times the sensitivity".
Silvano Fumero added: "The procedure mimics the replication of abnormal prion proteins in the body in the fast forward mode, compressing years of real-life time into a few hours in the laboratory".
The technique may help scientists to identify drugs to treat CJD and other degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
The discovery could also "pave the way for a simple blood test for prion diseases," Serono said in a communiqué. At the moment there are no tests available for live or newly infected animals or dead animals less than 30 months old.
Scientists suspect the BSE epidemic was caused by feeding cattle meat and other by-products from BSE-infected animals.
swissinfo with agencies
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