Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) is a form of prion disease in humans that may pave way for brain damage and death. In a major breakthrough, investigators from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have developed a blood test which is 10,000 times more sensitive than other methods in recognizing vCJD. This test was allegedly employed to detect scrapie, a prion disease of sheep, in infected hamsters.
Prion diseases also termed as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, may be difficult to diagnose, untreatable and ultimately life-threatening. Disease-causing prions are assumed to be abnormal infectious clusters of prion protein molecules. Generally, protein molecules exist in every mammal in a scattered, harmless form. During prion diseases, tissue damage supposedly leaves microscopic sponge-like holes in the brain.
Other than vCJD and scrapie, other forms of prion disease possibly include chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease. Researchers have now introduced a rapid and sensitive screening tool to detect prion diseases in blood. This test can presumably aid in preventing the spread of prion diseases among and between species, via the blood supply or otherwise.
Attempts are also made to use this test for diagnosing various prion diseases in different animals.