15 November 2001
Cash threat to BSE test research

By Donald MacPhail

RESEARCH which could lead to a BSE test for live cattle is in jeopardy unless the government provides more funding by the end of the year.

Alan Ebringer, professor of immunology at Kings College, London, has developed a test for BSE which has identified infected samples with 100% accuracy.

In the pilot study, material from infected cattle was found to have higher levels of antibodies to the bacterium acinetobactor calcoaceticus.

If wider trials support this, an on-farm BSE test could be developed.

“By testing 1cc of blood, we could determine whether or not an animal has BSE before it goes to slaughter, ” said Prof Ebringer.

Such a test could prevent cattle with BSE entering the food chain, although further research is required to discover whether it could detect sub-clinical cases.

But the project could come to an abrupt halt on 31 December when funding provided in the 1990s by the then Ministry of Agriculture runs out.

And a presentation Prof Ebringer was due to make to influential government BSE advisors SEAC in November has been put back until February.

Supporters of Prof Ebringers believe scientists are trying to halt his work because it is at odds with the mainstream theory that BSE is caused by rogue prions.

Prof Ebringer believes that BSE, vCJD and other diseases, including multiple sclerosis, are caused by an immune reaction.

This is set off by exposure to acinetobactor, which “mimics” brain cells. Antibodies which attack the bacteria also attack brain tissue, he believes.

Prof Ebringer says prions are consequence of the autoimmune conditions triggered by acinetobactor, rather than the cause of BSE.

In the House of Commons on Thursday (15 November), Labour MP Tam Dalyell will ask Defra secretary Margaret Beckett if she plans to renew funding.

“This should be given a proper hearing,” Mr Dalyell told FWi. “My instinct is that Prof Ebringer may be right and that SEAC could be wrong.”

SEAC chairman Peter Smith stressed that Defra made all funding decisions and denied that there were any moves to sideline Prof Ebringer.

“The fact that SEAC has invited Prof Ebringer to present his research indicates that we give credence to his work,” he said.

A Defra spokesman said if proposals were approved by peer review, the department could consider funding in the New Year.