JANUARY 15, 1999 -- The development and validation of a test that allows earlier diagnosis of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), in advanced disease, will be published in this week's Lancet by a research team led by Professor John Collinge at the Imperial College School of Medicine at St. Mary's Hospital in London.
The test, developed through research funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council (MRC), involves a minor operation to remove a small piece of tonsil tissue which is then analysed to detect a rogue form of 'prion' protein. This rogue prion protein is the infectious agent which causes CJD in humans and BSE and scrapie in animals and its detection allows diagnosis of Prion disease.
Previously vCJD could only be reliably detected after death at post-mortem or in some cases by a brain biopsy. This simple operation will allow earlier diagnosis of vCJD - the human form of BSE.
The research findings have two other important implications:
As only patients with vCJD, and not classical CJD, have the rogue protein detectable in tonsil, this demonstrates that the prion infection in vCJD behaves quite differently in the way it affects different tissues in the body than classical CJD. This highlights concerns that vCJD might pass from person to person as a result of certain medical or surgical procedures.
It is likely that the rogue protein is present in tonsil long before a patient develops symptoms of the disease. This method could be used to estimate how many people in the population are likely to develop vCJD by studying tonsil (or other related tissue) samples, on an anonymous basis, removed during routine operations. Such studies are being planned by the Medical Research Council and Department of Health which will take place at the new MRC Prion Unit directed by Professor John Collinge and also involve the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh. The MRC Prion Unit will also be dedicated to discovering treatments and other diagnostic tests and will call upon international expertise to study the effect of prions on brain function.
"This new test has already proven very helpful in the diagnosis of new variant CJD. While unfortunately, we have at present no means to treat this dreadful disease, we can at least now provide a definite diagnosis at an earlier stage. Research must continue apace to fully understand the disease and to develop an effective treatment. This will at best take some years. The development of a test which works on a simple blood sample remains an important goal," said Professor Collinge.
For more information call the MRC Press Office 0171 637 6011 or the Wellcome Trust Press Office 0171 611 8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors:
For a copy of the research paper please contact Annabel Dillon at the Lancet 0171 436 4981
Professor Collinge is a Principal Research Fellow of the Wellcome Trust, and is Director of the Medical Research Council Prion Unit. He is also a consultant neurologist at St. Mary's Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) established since 1913, aims to improve health by promoting research into all areas of medical and related science. It is funded mainly by the government, but is independent in its choice of which research to support. About half of the MRC's expenditure of £323.8 million is invested in over 40 of its Institutes and Units, where it employs its own research staff. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools.
The Wellcome Trust is the world's largest medical research charity with an annual spend of £300 million. The Wellcome Trust supports more than 3,000 researchers, at 300 locations, in 30 different countries - laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the next century and helping to maintain the UK's reputation as one of the world's leading scientific nations. As well as funding major initiatives in the public understanding of science, the Wellcome Trust is the country's leading supporter of research into the history of medicine.
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