Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Detecting Mad Cow Disease in Human Blood

According to a paper published in the journal "The Lancet", researchers have found a way to detect the proteins that cause mad cow disease in human blood. As we learned in lecture Mad Cow Disease is contracted by eating beef from infected cattle. It has killed 171 people and resulted in the death of more than 4 million cattle, in order to try to get rid of the disease. It is officially known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The infection is caused by prion proteins that cause the brain to break down. Since there is not a test to detect the disease it can be passed through blood transfusions.

But recently British researchers have invented a screening test that is able to detect the abnormal prion protein associated with Mad Cow Disease. The tests were run on 190 samples and it was able to detect 15 out of 21 samples from people that have the disease. In addition to the 71.4% success rate the test did not prove any false positives (it didn't incorrectly indicate that the abnormal prion was in any of the healthy samples).

While it would be great to get this screening test used as soon as possible it isn't that easy. It is still unclear whether or not these tests can detect the disease in people who are still in the early stages of the diseases and who do not show symptoms yet.


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