Brussels, 18 Feb 2004
A report published on 17 February claims that a new form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) that has recently been found in Italy might be the cause of some cases of human-brain wasting disease.
This new strain, found in two elderly dairy cows, resembles one form of the human disease, sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), raising the possibility that this human disease comes from eating animals.
Previously, unlike vCJD, which is known to be caused by eating BSE-infected beef, sporadic CJD was thought to occur spontaneously.
'We don't know if this disease is passed to humans,' said Dr Salvatore Monaco, a neurologist at the G. B. Rossi Polyclinic in Verona, and an author of the study. 'But it is very similar to a subtype that causes sporadic CJD in humans.'
However, other scientists caution that more than two contaminated cows will have to be found before it can be concluded that a new form of disease has been discovered. They warn that it may be that the two cows simply caught BSE via a different method of infection.
The disease found in the two cows is so different that its discoverers gave it a new name, bovine amyloidotic spongiform encephalopathy, or BASE, because it forms amyloid plaques in the brain.
On the positive side, scientists agree that even if BASE is a distinct form of BSE, it is not likely to escape being detected in European abattoirs where all cattle over 30 months old must pass a BSE test before being slaughtered for human consumption.
However, if it is a second cattle transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), it could arise spontaneously in areas with no history of BSE infection. Tests are currently being carried out on mice. To read the abstract of the report published in 'The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences', please visit: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract /0305777101v1