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'Mad cow' proteins successfully detected in blood

GALVESTON, Texas -- Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) have found a way to detect in blood the malformed proteins that cause "mad cow disease," the first time such "prions" have been detected biochemically in blood.

The discovery, reported in an article scheduled to appear online in Nature Medicine Aug. 28, is expected to lead to a much more effective detection method for the infectious proteins responsible for brain-destroying disorders, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. The blood test would make it much easier to keep BSE-infected beef out of the human food supply, ensure that blood transfusions and organ transplants do not transmit vCJD, and give researchers their first chance to figure out how many people may be incubating the disease.

"The concentration of infectious prion protein in blood is far too small to be detected by the methods used to detect it in the brain, but we know it's still enough to spread the disease," said UTMB neurology professor Claudio Soto, senior author of the Nature Medicine paper. "The key to our success was developing a technique that would amplify the quantity of this protein more than 10 million-fold, raising it to a detectable level."

Soto and the paper's other authors, UTMB assistant professor of neurology Joaquin Castilla and research assistant Paula Sa, applied a method they call protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) to blood samples taken from 18 prion-infected hamsters that had developed clinical symptoms of prion disease. PMCA uses sound waves to vastly accelerate the process that prions use to convert normal proteins to misshapen infectious forms.

Successive rounds of PMCA led to the discovery of prions in the blood of 16 of the 18 infected hamsters. No prions were found in blood samples that were taken from 12 healthy control hamsters and subjected to the same treat
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28-Aug-2005


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