- When mad cow disease occurred in England in 1986, it
dealt a severe economic blow to the British beef industry. A scientist
has developed a way to identify the presence of an abnormal protein in
the blood of animals that gives rise to diseases such as mad cow disease.
The technique might lead to a diagnostic test for such diseases.
- "The big
breakthrough is that to this point no one
has been able to pick up the
agent that causes the diseases in the blood
of animals," said Mary
Jo Schmerr, the Agriculture Research Service
chemist who developed the
- The technique tags the abnormal proteins, called prions,
they are pushed through a small capillary. If the florescent tag binds
to the proteins, it is an indicator that prions are present and the animal
is infected. With further development, the assay could be packaged as a
test kit and shipped around the country.
- The tagging of prions also
allows researchers to learn
how the proteins move in the blood stream
and at what stage the disease
infects the brains of animals, where it
causes the most damage.
- Mad cow disease is the best known of these diseases,
known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. When mad cow disease
occurred in England in 1986 it dealt a severe economic blow to the British
beef industry. Mad cow disease would have a similar devastating impact
if detected in North America.
- All sheep in North America are susceptible to scrapie,
another form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathie.
development of this assay may lead to a
diagnostic test for this fatal
disease agent in animals and humans. Such
a diagnostic test would be an
important tool for the control of these diseases,"
administrator Floyd Horn said in a statement.
- "This is the kind of tool
needed to prevent that
kind of disaster," said Schmerr. With a
test kit, researchers could
go in and find out what animals have the
disease and "put a wall around
the sick animals."
- Other forms of
transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
include scrapie, which all
sheep in North America are susceptible to. Elk
and mule deer get the
chronic wasting disease and mink are susceptible
to yet another
- Humans are susceptible to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is rare in the United States and kuru has
never been seen outside New Guinea, according to the Agricultural Research
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