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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 13:35 GMT


International centre launched for CJD research

New variant CJD is thought to be caused by eating BSE-infected beef

An international centre for research into the brain disease CJD is being set up in London.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is pouring £1.5m a year into the centre on human prion disease which will be led by Professor John Collinge of St Mary's Hospital in London, a leading international researcher in the field. Prions are proteins thought to cause a range of brain diseases, including Creutzfeldt Jakob's Disease.

The council says the centre will provide a stable research environment for work on CJD as well as guaranteed long-term funding.

Top international researcher Professor Charles Weissman from Zurich will join the team in March 1999, giving it an international perspective.

Tonsils and blood

One of the centre's first tasks will be to develop tests on blood and tonsils which may act as an early warning of how many humans have been affected by new variant CJD.

Research has shown that the tonsils of those affected by CJD show signs of the disease before they die.

[ image: Stephen Churchill: one of the victims of new variant CJD]
Stephen Churchill: one of the victims of new variant CJD
Scientists believe this could act as an early warning system for the disease as current tests rely on brain biopsies after patients have died.

No-one knows the extent of new variant CJD - thought to have been caused by eating BSE-infected beef.

Some scientists believe many thousands of British people may be carrying the disease which could take 30 years to develop.

Researchers have found that 20 patients with CJD have shown signs of the disease in their tonsils.

They have begun collecting removed tonsils from the general population to begin tests which could give the first picture of the extent of CJD.

Training base

The MRC says the new research centre, which will have around 60 staff, aims to develop a long-term approach to understanding prion disease as well as coming up with prompt research on areas of public concern.

It also hopes to act as an international training centre for researchers working in the field of prion disease.

And it will work with the NHS to develop the clinical basis for future prion disease trials.

The centre, which will initially be based at St Mary's Hospital, will eventually have its own site.

It is mostly funded by the MRC, but the Wellcome Foundation and the European Union have also given grants.

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