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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 17:32 GMT
'We may have a test for vCJD'
Jonathan Simms who has vCJD
The test has been used on just a handful of patients
A British doctor says he may have developed a test to identify people with the human form of BSE.

But Dr Chris Pomfrett says he is being denied the help he needs to find out if it actually works.

The Manchester specialist says tests on cows suggest it could be effective. However, he needs humans with the disease to test it properly.

Dr Pomfrett says specialist centres in London and Edinburgh have failed to refer patients with the disease to him.

'No test'

There is currently no test for vCJD. The disease has killed 139 people in the UK since it emerged nine years ago. A further seven people with vCJD are still alive.

Many more could have the disease. The exact number is unknown, not least because scientists do not know how long it takes for symptoms to appear.

It's incredibly frustrating
Dr Chris Pomfrett
Dr Pomfrett said his test, which was developed with 112,000 government funding, could identify those at risk.

The neurophysiologist, who is based at Manchester Royal Infirmary, has developed an electrocardiogram system used in heart monitoring to spot early signs of the disease.

Tests on cows suggested it could identify those with BSE a year and a half before symptoms appeared.

Dr Pomfrett said he needs to test the system on 20 people with vCJD to find out whether or not it works in humans.

He has appealed to staff at the country's top specialist centres at the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh and the National Prion Clinic at St Mary's Hospital, London, to give him access to patients.

So far, however, neither Edinburgh nor London has given him access to patients.

The scientist has only managed to run the check, which works at a much higher resolution than normal ecg equipment, on four CJD sufferers.

Belfast man Don Simms provided access to his son Jonathan, who is undergoing pioneering treatment to halt the disease's spread, and two other sufferers.

No referrals

The microbiologist who identified the drugs being used on Jonathan Simms also put Dr Pomfrett in touch with another family.

"I have been to Edinburgh and London and given presentations on my work but for some reason we have not had any patients referred to us by these groups," said Dr Pomfrett.

"When we originally got the money we wanted to look at 20 CJD suspects and since then 35 people have died," he said.

"It's incredibly frustrating because we have the equipment," he said.

"This potentially could detect up to five years in humans before symptoms show, but that's still just speculation. I can't validate this until I reach the threshold of 20 cases."

Mr Simms urged the two specialist centres to help Dr Pomfrett to carry out his tests.

"This is the best we have got at the minute," he said. "It could stop the loss of blood donors and also show up those who have developed vCJD sooner so they can take immediate action of seeking experimental treatment."

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