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New Test Scans Beef for Mad Cow Disease

Method enables real-time identification of contaminated tissue, study says

TUESDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The first test for instantly detecting beef that's been contaminated with tissue from a cow's brain or spinal cord during slaughter has been developed by U.S. researchers. They said the test is an advance in efforts to protect the human food chain from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow disease."

The removal of brain, spinal and other central nervous system tissue after slaughter is "one of the highest priority tasks to avoid contamination of the human food chain with bovine spongiform encephalopathy," noted Jurgen A. Richt and colleagues at Iowa State University and the National Animal Disease Center of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

However, there is no currently available method that "enables the real-time detection of possible central nervous system (CNS) tissue contamination on carcasses during slaughter," the researchers said in an American Chemical Society news release.

They developed a test based on detection of the fluorescent pigment lipofuscin, a substance that appears in high concentrations in the nervous system of cattle. The test proved a reliable indicator for the presence of brain and spinal tissue in bovine carcasses and meat cuts.

"Small quantities of bovine spinal cord were reliably detected in the presence of raw bovine skeletal muscle, fat and vertebrae. The research lays the foundation for development of a prototype device allowing real-time monitoring of CNS tissue contamination on bovine carcasses and meat cuts," the researchers wrote.

The study is in the Aug. 13 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about mad cow disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Chemical Society, news release, Aug. 6, 2008

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