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Population Screening for vCJD Using a Novel Blood Test

7 March 2014

There are real concerns over the number of people in the UK that, although well, maybe infected with Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease.

In order to identify such individuals and prevent further infections through blood and organ donations, researchers at the MRC Prion Unit, UCL Institute of Neurology, have been striving to develop a simple blood test that can be used for both diagnosis of patients and for screening large populations such as blood donors.

The researchers have previously described their success in producing a prototype blood test for vCJD which is now in use for clinical diagnosis and which could form the basis for developing a screening test with high throughput.

Following publication of their initial results in the Lancet in 2011, the researchers, led by Dr Graham Jackson, MRC Programme Leader, Prion Unit, embarked upon a large scale study of control samples to ensure the test is highly specific and could not result in individuals being wrongly identified as infected with prions. 

Dr Jackson is delighted to report in JAMA Neurology that the assay has proved to be 100% specific for prion disease and an absence of any positive reactions from over 5000 control samples confirms the tests suitability for further development and its application for prevalence studies that will confirm the number of people in the UK donating blood infected with prions.

Our study has confirmed the vCJD blood test we have developed is highly specific and as such is an ideal candidate for development into a high throughput assay for use in protecting public health.

Dr Graham Jackson, MRC Programme Leader, Prion Unit

Further information: 

Jackson, G.S et al. Population Screening for Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Using a Novel Blood Test: Diagnostic Accuracy and Feasibility Study JAMA Neurol. Published online March 03, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.6001 

Edgeworth, J.A. et al. (2011) Detection of prion infection in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: a blood based assay. Lancet 377:487-93. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62308-2

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