A simple blood test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy may be a step closer, following a breakthrough by medical researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Using newly available genetic sequencing, the scientists discovered that cells infected with prions (the infectious agent responsible for these diseases) release particles which contain easily recognized “signature genes.” According to researchers, these particles travel in the bloodstream, which makes a diagnostic blood test a possibility.
The research, which has been published in Oxford University Press’s Nucleic Acids Research journal, involved genetic testing that focused on a form of cell discharge called exosomes. When exosomes were infected with prions that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as “Mad Cow Disease,” they were found to also carry a specific signature of small genes called microRNAs. The discovery could have significant implications both for diagnosis and for blood donor screening.
Lead author Shayne Bellingham, PhD, reports that the breakthrough might also help detect other human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. “This is an exciting new field where we can test for conditions in the brain and throughout the body without being invasive,” he says. Read the article.