Mad cow disease test raises hopes for NZ donors

Last updated 09:51 13/02/2011
British scientists have developed a prototype test able to detect tiny amounts of vCJD-causing particles in human blood.

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British scientists have developed the most accurate blood test yet for the human form of mad-cow disease, potentially clearing the way for thousands of Kiwis who lived in the UK in the 1980s and 90s to give blood.

Since 2000, the New Zealand Blood Service has banned donations from anyone who lived in Britain, France or Ireland for six months or longer between 1980 and 1996.

The ban was instigated by the Ministry of Health because of the risk of donated blood products transmitting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The fatal, brain-wasting disease is linked to eating beef from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also called mad-cow disease. It is thought that infected beef entered the food supply of the three countries during the 16-year period.

The disease, which first emerged in the mid 1990s, causes personality change, loss of body function, and eventually death.

But British scientists have now developed a prototype blood test which is 100,000 times more sensitive than previous tests and able to detect tiny amounts of vCJD-causing particles, known as prions.

Writing in the Lancet medical journal, lead researcher Graham Jackson, from University College London, said that although larger studies were needed to confirm its effectiveness, the test could in future allow doctors to screen whole populations for vCJD infection.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said it was aware of the research but it would be premature to speculate on its introduction in New Zealand.

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