Now, a simple blood test to detect Mad Cow disease

Updated: Sep 12, 2012, 15:20 PM IST

Melbourne: Researchers have suggested that a simple blood test could now detect a form of brain damage and Mad Cow disease.

Researchers from the Melbourne University have discovered that particles released from the infectious agent responsible for Mad Cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease travel in the blood stream of patients.

`Prions` the infectious agent responsible for these diseases, release particles which contain easily recognised `signature genes`.

"These particles travel in the blood stream, making a diagnostic blood test a possibility," Andrew Hill of Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bio21 Institute, said.

Mad cow disease is a rare illness people can get from eating infected beef while Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a form of brain damage that leads to a rapid decrease of mental function and movement.

The researchers` genetic testing focused on a form of cell discharge called exosomes.

If exosomes were infected with prions they were found to also carry a specific signature of small genes called microRNA`s.

"This might provide a way to screen people who have spent time in the UK, who currently face restrictions on their ability to donate blood," he said in a statement.

"With a simple blood test nurses could deem a prospective donor`s blood as healthy, with the potential to significantly boost critical blood stocks," he said.

Mad Cow disease was linked to the deaths of nearly 200 people in Great Britain who consumed meat from infected animals in the late 1980s.

Since 2000, the Australia Red Cross Blood Service has not accepted blood from anybody who lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996, or who received a blood transfusion in the UK after 1980.

According to researcher Shayne Bellingham, the breakthrough might also help detect other human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer`s and Parkinson`s.