A news release from the National Institutes of Health Tuesday reports that scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have developed a new way to detect variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) in blood plasma that they say is 10,000 times more sensitive than other methods.

In humans, vCJD is zoonotic foodborne disorder, a form of prion disease. Other forms of prion disease include scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

Collaborating with scientists from Switzerland-based Prionics AG, the NIAID group said its new test, which it calls eQuIC detects when normal prion protein converts to an abnormal form. They say this improves prospects for routinely detecting low levels of abnormal prions in tissues, fluids or environmental samples such as soil. The group plans to study eQuIC as a potential tool to diagnose various prion diseases in different animals.

The NIAID researchers said they have already used the test to detect prion disease in sheep and in hamsters, some presymptomatic.

Normally, prion protein molecules exist in every mammal in an unclustered, harmless form. Scientists believe disease-causing prions are abnormal infectious clusters of prion protein molecules. Prion diseases are difficult to diagnose, untreatable and ultimately fatal.


Because animals and people can be infected for years before symptoms of disease appear, scientists have tried to develop a rapid and sensitive screening tool to detect prion diseases in blood, which would assist in efforts to prevent the spread of prion diseases among and between species, via the blood supply or otherwise.