The test would have enabled farmers to demonstrate that their cattle are BSE-free as well as enabling doctors to estimate the future spread of the epidemic of new variant CJD, the human form of the brain disorder. However, the Medical Research Council (MRC) has been forced to scrap its attempts at validating the first ever BSE test after its inventor, Dr Harash Narang, a former government scientist, apparently was unable to deal with its defects.
Dr Narang, an outspoken critic of government policy on BSE and a thorn in the side of the scientific establishment, has been told that the project designed to assess the accuracy of his test cannot continue because the MRC says he has failed to agree a suitable scientific protocol.
The Council has already spent pounds 125,000 of the pounds 198,000 allocated to the project in setting up an expensive electron microscopy laboratory at Leeds University and providing Dr Narang with several researchers to carry out the validation of his test. Experts from the National CJD Surveillance Centre in Edinburgh have supplied urine samples from patients with suspected CJD in the hope that Dr Narang's test would be able to determine whether they are infected with the human form of BSE.
The Independent understands, however, that the test suffered a serious flaw and could not distinguish between microscopic fibres, which Dr Harang claims are indicative of BSE infection, and bacterial fibres caused by contamination of the test equipment.
But Dr Narang said yesterday the MRC had not given his test a chance because insufficent urine samples were sent to him. "It's got nothing to do with bacterial contamination, these people have simply failed to provide urine specimens."