Claudio Soto of University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, and colleagues have developed a blood test that can detect small quantities of the infectious prion particle. The infectious misfolded prion proteins are the cause of Mad Cow disease in cattle and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. They report in the study, published in the July 7, 2006 issue of Science, that they can detect circulating prion in the blood of hamsters before the appearance of the disease symptoms by using a technique they invented called protein misfolding cyclic amplification.

“Our aim was to develop a non-invasive screening test for humans and animals before the clinical disease appears,” says Dr. Soto. “Currently brain samples are taken from cattle under anesthesia to check for prion infection but having a blood test will allow more rapid and less expensive way to screen cattle.”

“It has been reported that humans can harbor the infection for a very long time, as much as 40 years, and a blood test can potentially be invaluable for screening blood and organ donors,” says Dr. Soto.

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