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New blood tests can detect prions

Screening could prevent spread of infectious proteins through transfusions

2:00pm, December 21, 2016
prion blood test

PRION PROPAGATION  A technique called protein misfolding cyclic amplification can be used to test blood for infectious, disease-causing proteins called prions (an apparatus used in the process, shown). The test takes advantage of prions' ability to convert a normal brain protein into the prion form.

A new blood test can detect even tiny amounts of infectious proteins called prions, two new studies show.


Incurable prion diseases, such as mad cow disease (BSE) in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people, result from a normal brain protein called PrP twisting into a disease-causing “prion” shape that kills nerve cells in the brain. As many as 30,000 people in the United Kingdom may be carriers of prions that cause vCJD, presumably picked up by eating BSE-tainted beef. Health officials worry infected people could unwittingly pass prions to others through blood transfusions. Four such cases have already been recorded. But until now, there has been no way to screen blood for the infectious proteins.


In the test, described December 21 in Science Translational Medicine, magnetic nanobeads coated with plasminogen — a

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