The Twentieth Century’s most feared foodborne illness – the fatal Mad Cow Disease – may be the era’s key to treating a long list of diseases involving deformed proteins, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Such neurological disorders as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease could benefit from the prion research into the rare bovine neurodegenerative disorder.
The common links among the bovine and human diseases are deformed proteins. Prion diseases, including the human form of Mad Cow known as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob (VCJ), spread quickly from cell-to-cell. The new therapeutic target for science is bringing a halt to cell-to-cell spread of deformed proteins, which cannot be repaired.
“Arrest it and we can potentially stop the disease, “ neurologist Neil R. Cashman told the WSJ. He is conducting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease at the University of British Columbia’s Brian Research Center.
The promising research has gained the attention of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has increased its support for research in the area including a work on a vaccine in Austria.
Other diseases involving deformed proteins are: Type 2 diabetes, Atherosclerosis, Cataracts, Cystic fibrosis and Emphysema.
Mad Cow is the common name for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle due to spongy degeneration of the brain and spinal cord.
More than 460,000 BSE-infected cattle entered the human food chain before controls went into effect in 1989 in England and Ireland. BSE is easily transmitted to human by eating food contaminated with brain, spinal cord or the digestive tract of infected carcasses.
VCJ killed 166 in the United Kingdom and 44 in other countries before the problem was contained. The UK’s eradication program included the destruction of 4.4 million head of cattle. Mad Cow is caused by misfiled proteins called prions, which are not destroyed by cooking.
Four BSE-infected cows have been found in the United States since 2003, the most recent last April 12 in California. Three Mad Cow-related deaths have occurred in the U.S., a resident of the United Kingdom in 2004, and two residents of Saudi Arabia in 2006. All three were thought to have been infected in their home countries before arriving in the U.S.© Food Safety News