- The human form of 'mad cow disease' could be diagnosed
using a brain scan, according to a British radiologist.
- At the moment it is extremely difficult to diagnose variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) as it does not bear all the characteristics
of the classic form of CJD.
- While that produces a distinct pattern of brain wave
activity in sufferers, the new variant version does not and can only be
identified after death when the brain is examined.
- However, a radiologist from Newcastle says that if doctors
can develop an experienced eye, they may be able to identify the condition
using a standard brain scan.
- Scarring in the brain
- Dr Alan Coulthard, a consultant radiologist at the Royal
Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, says vCJD could be identified
by scarring deep inside the brain that shows up during magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) scans.
- This is not seen in cases of classic CJD.
- Dr Coulthard compared the brain scans of three patients
diagnosed with vCJD with 14 from patients without the disease.
- He found a higher intensity of certain signals in the
vCJD patients than among the others.
- However, the difference is very subtle and it is not
yet certain whether it is a reliable indicator that the disease is present,
Dr Coulthard said.
- And doctors would have difficulty identifying the scarring
because they see so few cases of vCJD compared to other brain conditions
- there have only been 43 confirmed or probable cases between the discovery
of the disease in 1994-95 and July 1999.
- Non-invasive test
- However, using the new study as an example of what to
look for to identify vCJD - or to rule it out - radiologists could be able
to provide a non-invasive method of diagnosis, Dr Coulthard told BBC News
- "It will be helpful in terms of making an early
diagnosis, because the other ways of detecting the disease are very invasive,
so it will be very helpful to have a non-invasive test," he said.
- At the moment, examining a piece of the patient's brain
is the best way to be certain they have the disease, and the only other
tests to have shown real potential so far involve removing tissue.
- Meanwhile a blood test to diagnose the disease is still
under development in Leeds.
- Less anxiety
- Dr Coulthard said the existence of a brain scan test
could help calm the fears of patients and their families.
- "It might prevent angst in patients who may have
similar findings but don't have vCJD," he said.
- "So instead of going through invasive tests you'll
be able to say if you've got a normal MRI scan - if these findings are
verified - that you don't need to go through those tests," he said.
- Dr Coulthard's work was published in the British Journal
of Radiology and reported in New Scientist magazine.