11 September 1998
Scientists develop tests for ‘hidden’ BSE

THE Governments advisory committee on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has recommended a new series of tests on cows that could be “secretly” carrying the agents that cause “mad cow” disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

John Collinge of St Marys Hospital in London has developed a technique that can be used to test samples from cows quickly and cheaply. The test – called Western Blot – is designed to pick up cows that may be carrying the disease, but presenting no obvious symptoms.

The existence of this type of hidden BSE raises the possibility that many cows could remain infectious even when the BSE epidemic is over.

Professor John Pattison, chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) told the British Association science conference that the research has the approval of his committee. The test was currently being submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Professor Richard Lacey, a long-term critic of the ministrys approach to BSE, believes the number of cases is being underestimated. He has advocated a wider series of tests.