Kam Patel reports on accusations of 'woefully inadequate' statistics on BSE, and the launch of a new research programme. A shakeup of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) followed the appointment of John Pattison as its chairman last year. He was appointed after the retirement of David Tyrrell, ex-director of the Medical Research Council's common cold research unit.
Professor Pattison, professor of medical microbiology and dean of the UCL medical school, sought to strengthen the scientific base of the committee. Four new members were appointed last December including Jeffrey Almond, a virologist and professor of microbiology at the University of Reading. Professor Almond's laboratory has been carrying out research on BSE for more than five years and he was coordinator of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's BSE research programme from 1990 to 1994.
Another new appointment was John Collinge, head of the prion diseases group at St Mary's Hospital medical school, London. A clinical neurologist, Professor Collinge's research group has focused its efforts on BSE and other similar diseases, mainly using transgenic mice.
Other new appointments were veterinary pathologist Ray Bradley and Peter Smith, an epidemiologist based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
One source familiar with the workings of SEAC said: "If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said that SEAC meetings were not terribly useful. With people like Collinge there, I think you are much more likely to get rigorous questioning."