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Mention Mad Cow and people worry. One reason is there is no good method of detection. When a major outbreak happened in Great Britain in the 1980's, 180 people died but more worrisome were the millions who were exposed.

Since mad cow disease, or BSE, may take 20 or more years for clinical disease to be manifest, we don't know who is infected. That's why people who were in Britain at that time and ate beef can not donate blood because of the risk of transmitting the disease.

We are talking about the ultimate infectious Trojan Horse! Right now unless a cow or human shows physical symptoms, the only way to confirm they have the disease is through an autopsy.

Today something promising is being developed. Claudio Soto and his colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have discovered a way to identify prion proteins - the infectious agent in BSE. Prions affect the structure of the brain by their ability to induce normal proteins to fold abnormally.

Soto is able to detect prions by "amplifying" the proteins in infected blood samples which allows detection of minute amounts of circulating protein.

They use a ground breaking approach called cyclic amplification of protein folding. Through sound waves, they can accelerate the prions' ability to cause the mis-folding of healthy proteins which amplifies their presence by 1 million times.

The implications of this new technology are obvious. By detecting sick cattle - we can ensure a safe food supply.

By detecting sick patients - we can ensure infected blood and organs aren't used. But we can then also work on treatments to extend an infected person's life.

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Study Advances Variant CJD Prion Detection
Scientists have made significant advances towards the development of a technique that could be used to confirm whether someone is infected with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
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Prion Propagates In Foreign Host
"Using baker's yeast and another fungus, researchers report the first successful propagation of a prion from one organism to another…"
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The Germ of an Idea
The story of a UTMB researcher's discovery of a new amplification method for prions that may revolutionize detection of this important pathogen.
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