02 June 1998
Tories almost closed vital BSE lab
By Boyd Champness
THE Tory Government was on the verge of closing Britains main neuropathogenesis department – just as its scientists were discovering vital clues about the emergence of BSE.
In her written evidence to the BSE inquiry, Dr Nora Hunter, principal research officer for the Institute of Animal Healths Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU), said the Tories announced in 1988 that they were going to close down the Edinburgh unit and relocate staff.
This decision was later reversed just as scientists were on the brink of discovering more about the disease.
Five scientists from the unit were today quizzed at the inquiry about their role in the BSE crisis.
Another leading scientist at the unit, Moira Bruce, said in her written evidence that work carried out by the NPU immediately after 1988 would later explain a lot about the BSE mystery bewildering scientists.
Experiments set up in 1989 – whereby mice, cats and kudu and nyala (antelopes) were injected with TSE agents – revealed for the first time that a TSE could accidentally spread between species.
At the same time, it was shown that the BSE agent was also retained in transmissions from sheep, goats and pigs that had been experimentally infected with BSE. The fact that the BSE strain retained its characteristics after it had gone through several different species showed that transmission to mice could be used to test any suspicion that BSE had spread to other species such as humans.
The unearthing of this key scientific evidence – enabling ministers to install necessary control measures – might not have come to light as quickly, if at all, if the NPU had been closed down, the inquiry heard.