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New test for prions opens the door to routine testing

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Monday, May 16, 2011

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Could a new test for prions put you back in the blood donors’ chair?

As an upstanding member of society, it undermines my sense of respectability that I am not allowed to donate my blood to benefit the worthy cause of saving human lives. But, alas, that is the Dreamstime_17940471 case: the Red Cross turns this willing donor away because I spent a good stretch of time living in the United Kingdom during the years they suspect that the prions that cause variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (vCJD) were circulating in the meat supply. Since there is currently no routine test that can screen blood products for vCJD, the Red Cross chooses to avoid the risk of transmitting prion diseases to transfusion recipients by forgoing these potentially prion-laden donations altogether. So I, like untold other potential donors, am labeled “REJECT” as far as the Red Cross in concerned.

More importantly, since I’m apparently at risk for vCJD from my junior-year-abroad days when I consumed shepherd’s pie without a thought to the minced mad cows within, do I carry these prions? That is something I’d like to know, but my doctor can’t provide a test for it unless I give up some of my brain tissue. Not going to happen.

A study in mBio this week describes a new test for detecting prions in blood and blood products that could enable doctors to detect prion diseases in patients before they become symptomatic. It could also help put healthy individuals back in those Red Cross blood donation buses.

The technique, called enhanced Real Time Quaking-induced conversion, or “eRTQ”, couples two tests together: an immunoprecipitation method and quaking-induced conversion. According to the results described in the paper, the method can detect prions in blood plasma and is around 10,000 times more sensitive than prior tests.

Until now, the authors write, low concentrations of prions in blood have stood in the way of rapid, non-invasive detection methods. And although several sensitive methods have been developed, most have serious limitations that prevent them from being used for routine screening. By combining two such methods, Orrú et al. say they have improved the sensitivity and applicability of the resulting assay, even in testing blood plasma, which usually has very few infectious doses per milliliter as well as a hefty load of inhibitors.

 

Source: mBiosphere
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