Scientists predict CJD deaths for 30 years

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The Independent Online
New scientific forecasts suggest the true figure for those dying of the "new variant" of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (v-CJD) - the human form of "mad cow" disease, or BSE - will probably lie between 1,000 and 10,000, and may be spread over the next 30 years.

But Peter Smith, a member of Seac, the Government's advisory body on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and CJD, and also one of the authors of the new research, said yesterday that it could take up to four years before a clear picture emerges of precisely how many people will be affected. "But the longer the numbers of cases arising remains small, then the sooner we can rule out the worst case [scenario]," he said.

Recent data from the CJD Surveillance Unit, where two of the research authors work, suggested that the number of "suspected" cases of v-CJD was not large, he added. "The signs are encouraging, but it's too soon to be enormously encouraged."

Hours before the research was released yesterday, the Government said that it would more than double the funding for research into BSE and CJD over the next three years, providing an extra pounds 17m of new funding in the science budget, to raise the three-year funding to pounds 30m. Departmental sources insisted last night that the timing was accidental.

The paper is based on data gathered from the 14 confirmed victims of v-CJD in the UK, and its forecasts investigate incubation periods of between 10 and 25 years.

Details of some of the findings, including the forecast of a total death toll of hundreds of people, were revealed by The Independent in November, after an earlier version of the paper had been sent to the The Lancet, where it was rejected. Richard Horton, the medical journal's editor, declined to say why.

A revised version is published today in the science journal Nature. "It has been rigorously peer-reviewed, just like any other paper," said Nick Short, Nature's biological sciences editor.