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Early identification of mad cow disease.

Not content to wait until one of the herd falls out and starts showing symptoms of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, the European Commission has been looking for tests capable of detecting the prion-protein that causes the disease.

Ten firms answered the Commission's call and three proposals have been retained for official use in the European Union: Prionics from Switzerland, Enfer from Ireland and France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). All three tests base their approach on the unusual configuration of the dangerous prion, which grants it protease-resisting power, and all three proved 100% accurate in detecting mad from healthy in 1,500 cow nerve tissue samples. Commissioners are pleased to have a reliable tool for early identification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and were particularly happy with the French procedure's sensitivity. The latter is due to a patented process by which prion concentrations in sample tissue can be increased before testing, thus increasing detectability.

CEA researchers are now collaborating with Pasteur Sanofi Diagnostics to automate their procedure and to obtain results within six hours. None of the trial results, however, reliably demonstrate that the tests are sensitive to prion presence during the long incubation period of the disease, but upcoming experiments will test for this capacity.

The CEA team, meanwhile, is beginning work to determine diagnostic similarities and differences among crazy cows, shaky sheep and human sufferers of the new-form Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, and will be looking not at nerve tissue but lymph node, tonsil and spleen samples. (French Advances in Science and Technology, July 8, 1999)
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Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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