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Rapid blood test detects prion infections

Researchers adapt testing platform to develop rapid, reliable blood test for misfolded protein infections.

Scientists have developed a potential blood test for detecting prion diseases including vCJD, an infectious, fatal, degenerative brain disorder.

Their method employs an existing technology optimised for use with blood samples, to create a rapid test.

Their technology can detect disease two years before visible signs occur, according to the study, indicating its suitability for testing or screening asymptomatic carriers of vCJD in the human population.

Diagnosis and screening

A quick, blood test for vCJD could be applied in large scale anonymised screenings to check for incidences of the rare condition, caused by misfolding proteins that form toxic deposits, throughout a population.

It could also prevent the spread of disease through asymptomatic carriers by screening blood donations, and be applied to detection of animal prion diseases, such as chronic wasting disease in deer.

Technology development

The team from the Roslin Institute used blood obtained from a sheep carrying BSE, as a proxy for vCJD-infected human blood, to develop their test.

They used a technology known as real time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC), a highly sensitive prion detector that works by self-propagation and amplification of misfolded proteins.

The team modified the tool by adding metal beads to capture and concentrate very tiny quantities of prions found in blood, to the point where they can be detected.

The resulting test, when applied to sheep blood, was able to detect clinical and pre-clinical stages of infection.

Compared with a similar method of prion amplification, it was shown to be highly sensitive.

The study, funded by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, was published in PLOS One.

Our approach offers a way to amplify the presence of prions in blood samples, enabling a novel advantage over other testing techniques. Our results show it can detect infection ahead of clinical signs, suggesting it could be deployed as a screening tool for donated blood and tissues or to shed light on the prevalence of vCJD, a very rare, but serious infection, in a population.

Dr Fiona HoustonRoslin Institute

 ** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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