More Illness Linked To BSE
Government Committee Alarmed By Italian Report
By James Meikle
Health Correspondent
The Guardian - UK

The government's advisers on BSE and its deadly human form, CJD, are to urgently reconsider whether BSE-like diseases in cattle may have links to more than one fatal brain condition.
And there may be more than one type of BSE: scientists in Italy have reported that a form of the disease discovered in some animals tested in their country has a signature resembling sporadic CJD in people.
They advise caution in linking diseases in two species but their report in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science is bound to revive debate about whether eating cheap beef may be responsible for some cases of sporadic CJD as well as the less common variant CJD traditionally linked to eating infected cattle.
This hypothesis was first suggested by a British scientist, John Collinge, 15 months ago when he said that injecting mice with BSE-infected material seemed to result in some having a signature which was the same as vCJD, but others a signature that was similar to one of three strains of sporadic CJD, a disease which affects older people than vCJD.
Professor Collinge's hypothesis was regarded as plausible by the government's spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (Seac) but last year members of the committee believed his work did not provide strong enough evidence.
The new research will raise further questions about the risks to humans from food, contamination from medical procedures and other routes of infection. It also revives questions about the origins of BSE, perhaps indicating that there was a form of sporadic CJD in cattle before the cattle epidemics which were blamed on grinding up cows and sheep for feed.
Other scientists have preferred the theory that BSE was a deadly form of scrapie, a sheep disease apparently harmless to humans but turned into a killer when the agent responsible was eaten by cows.
The Italian research comes from a different angle from that of Prof Collinge. It suggests there are different types of BSE-like diseases in cows, adding to suspicions also emerging from work in France and Japan. The Italian team, led by Salvatore Monaco which is calling the new disease Base, will use laboratory mice to develop its work further.
This may even lead to the identification of at least three types of BSE-like diseases in cattle. The research seems to point to a different form of the deformed and deadly prion protein thought linked to BSE from those suggested by Prof Collinge. British scientists have never found different types of BSE, but scientists such as Prof Collinge say this is because the government has never looked.
"It has always been on the cards, but it has not been a terribly popular thing to suggest," he said last night. The Italian work "adds an extra dimension" even if "it is not good news".
He said : "One positive thing is that it challenges two dogmas - that there is only one form of BSE and that sporadic CJD is a uniform process that arises out of the blue and has nothing to do with the environment." His work used British BSE-infected cows. But Prof Collinge said it was difficult to answer whether these carried only one strain of the disease and it changed in some genetically-engineered mice or whether there were two strains in some cattle and the genetically-engineered mice selected from one of them.
Seac said the Italian paper was "very interesting" and would be considered by the committee next Wednesday.
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