Scientists discover new human link with BSE

British scientists today publish the strongest evidence so far that "mad cow" disease has been transmitted to humans through infected beef.

EU officials last night warned that the new findings ruled out even a partial lifting of the beef export ban in the foreseeable future and said that Britain must honour its obligation to slaughter all high-risk cattle.

Scientists from the Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's Hospital, London, have shown that a protein associated with the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) identified in humans earlier this year and tentatively linked with eating infected beef, closely resembles that seen in cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and in other animals infected with BSE. The protein, known as a prion, is quite distinct from that found in other forms of CJD. The research could lead to a new test to confirm the new variant of CJD.

These new findings are the first experimental evidence that the appearance of this fatal brain disease in humans is linked with the BSE epidemic in cattle. Twelve cases of the new CJD have been confirmed so far since March with two more suspected cases under investigation.

Professor John Collinge, a consultant neurologist who led the research, said yesterday: "The Government has been working on the assumption that BSE is a human pathogen [infectious agent] and this work strengthens that hypothesis."

A Department of Health spokeswoman called the findings "persuasive" but not conclusive.

Professor Collinge and his team analysed the biochemical properties of prion proteins associated with sporadic and acquired forms of CJD, new variant CJD, and BSE transmitted to mice, cats, and macaque monkeys.

According to their report in today's issue of Nature, they discovered a characteristic molecular signature in new variant CJD which was also present in BSE in cattle and other animals, but absent in other forms of CJD. Professor Collinge, a member of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, said identification of the marker would lead to a diagnostic test for new variant CJD using human lymph or tonsil tissue within six months, and a blood test within a year. Currently new variant CJD can only be confirmed at autopsy.

The Meat and Livestock Commission said the research had no implications for the safety of beef because safeguards were designed to protect public health from the "worst possible case scenario".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat