08 June 1998
Government calls on Nobel prizewinner
to lead new BSE research
NOBEL prize-winning scientist Professor Stanley Prusiner has been asked by the UK Government to plan new research into mad cow disease after years of shunning his offers to help.
Prof Prusiner, an American scientist, is regarded as the leading expert on prion diseases such as BSE in cattle, the human equivalent new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and scrapie in sheep. He won his Nobel prize for discovering prion proteins, which many scientists believe hold the key to BSE transmission.
Prof Prusiner told the BSE inquiry at the weekend that the UK Government turned down grant applications in 1991 for “vital” research on mad cow disease.
“This was a major mistake; it cost us six years,” he said.
“It might have made a big difference if it was granted in 1991,” he added.
Prof Prusiners team made two formal applications to the Tory Government in 1991, followed by further informal approaches, and a third formal application in 1996, all of which were refused.
He told the inquiry that the Department of Agriculture only approached him last month requesting his help.
Prof Prusiner remains to be convinced that the nvCJD is caused by BSE in cattle, although he acknowledges that it seems the most likely scenario based on available evidence.
The Guardian writes that Government officials blocked a voluntary ban on cattle brains in meat products 18 months before forcing the food industry to introduce such a ban. It says the delay may have sharply increased the risk of BSE spreading to humans.
- The Daily Telegraph 08/08/98 page 8
- The Times 08/08/98 page 2
- The Guardian 08/08/98 page 9
- Financial Times 08/08/98 page 22