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University Of California-San Francisco Researchers Report Test That Detects Prion Diseases, Illuminates Novel,,Findings About Infectious Prions

Researchers at The University of California San Francisco report that they have developed a highly sensitive, rapid technique for detecting the infectious agents that cause prion diseases. And they said they expect the assay will ultimately be useful for detecting prions causing "mad cow" disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

With automation, they said, the tool could be applied to commercial testing of meat, biological and pharmaceutical products.

"This is an extremely exciting scientific breakthrough," said the lead author of the study, Jiri Safar, MD, an associate adjunct professor of neurology at UCSF. "We still have some scientific aspects of the assay to resolve, but we are moving from a scientific discovery to an engineering challenge."

But the significance of the UCSF study, reported in the October issue of Nature Medicine, extends beyond the hope for an effective screening tool. For the assay has revealed stunning insights into the nature of the novel, inscrutable pathogen that causes "mad cow" disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease in humans and a variety of other neurodegenerative diseases seen across species and known collectively as spongiform encephalopathies. The findings have given the researchers new direction for exploring the way in which the pathogen, called prion (PREE-on), for proteinaceous infectious particle, functions.

The test tube immunossay, which so far has been used to detect infection in hamsters, identifies extremely low levels of prion protein--the only known component of the infectious prion--and does so within a matter of eight hours. And the researchers said they believe the design can be adapted for large-scale robotic processing.

By contrast, current detection models, called bioassays, involve inserting suspected infectious tissue into the brains of laboratory animals and observing them for development of the disease. The process takes between 60 to 180 days, and cannot be c
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Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
jobrien@itsa.ucsf.edu
(415) 476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
28-Sep-1998


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