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Blood Test for 'Mad Cow' Disease May Be Near

It detects the brain illness in cattle months before symptoms appear, scientists say

THURSDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A simple, inexpensive DNA blood test may be able to detect "mad cow" disease in live cattle months before they show any clinical signs of the disease, according to a Canadian-led team of researchers.

Currently, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) can only be diagnosed by testing brain samples from dead animals. The ability to test live animals could have a huge impact on beef inspection worldwide. This test may also be able to detect Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in elk.

University of Calgary scientists and colleagues in Germany analyzed 16 BSE-infected and non-infected cattle and 19 CWD-infected and non-infected elk, and identified specific DNA sequences in the infected animals.

"The next steps are to analyze a time course series for BSE-infected cattle, to screen different cattle breeds for variances in the sequence patterns and also to look at cattle with brain tumors, brain trauma and other brain infections to make sure we are really picking up BSE," principal investigator Christoph Sensen said in a University of Calgary news release.

"Once that is done, our team sees the possibility for the production of a low-cost, high-output standard test kit for industry use in the next few years," Sensen said.

The research was published in the January issue of the journal Nucleic Acids Research.

Last September, Canadian and German researchers reported that cattle with mad cow disease have elevated protein levels in their urine, a finding that could lead to the development of a urine screening test for live animals.

The scientists also said it may be possible to develop a urine test to diagnose the fatal human brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is thought to be linked to BSE.

More information

The U.S. Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research has more about mad cow disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Calgary, news release, Jan. 29, 2009

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