12 April 1996

Quicker prion test for Ireland soon

A TWO-DAY post-mortem BSE test is likely to be commercially available in Irish abattoirs within a month.

Pioneered by Maccelsfield-based Proteus Molecular Design, the test identifies the presence of the BSE prion agent in infected cows brains and spinal cords. It uses an anti-serum which produces a red/brown stain when the prion is present on a slide of medulla brain tissue. If it is not there the slide remains transparent.

This test is much quicker than MAFFs model because only the medulla, which is the size of a broad bean, is used. MAFF researchers need six to eight weeks to search for spongy lesions within the whole brain, which is more akin to a coffee cup in comparison.

Peter Swift, head of project management at PMD, said its test has been validated with MAFFs Central Veterinary Laboratory, Tolworth, and Eires Veterinary Research Laboratory. "Irish interest in the tests commercial potential is driven by its downturn in beef exports," says Dr Swift.

If the test is commissioned in Ireland through a diagnostic product company carcasses will be held for two days while brain material is tested, he says. Costs are estimated at £10 a carcass. Those which test negative will then be able to enter the food chain, thereby providing a guarantee for exporters that the beef is safe.

lA live BSE test will not be available in the foreseeable future, says MAFF. It recently sent infected material to the National Institute of Health, USA, in the hope that a US-developed CJD diagnostic test may be successfully applied to cattle. Results show it will not help detect BSE, says MAFF.

Here, Harash Narang, previously at Newcastle University, claims to have developed a urine test which detects BSE in the live animal. Dr Narang is waiting for a patent before he will publish his results, which he expects to appear in a couple of months. Until his claims have been validated MAFF is reluctant to investigate further.

"What he claims is impossible," says a MAFF spokesman. "If it was possible to detect BSE in urine it would mean the disease was highly contagious. We know there are metabolites in urine which are specifically linked to BSE but we dont know how early in the incubation period they appear." &#42