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Last Updated: Friday, 21 February, 2003, 19:15 GMT
Italians promise early BSE test
The team was studying the brains of nine vCJD patients
Test will be patented in Italy
Italian researchers are developing what could be a breakthrough test to detect mad cow disease (BSE), state television reports.

A team from Verona and Padova found that the prion - an abnormal protein - which causes mad cow disease can be found not only in the brain, but also in the nose of infected animals, Italian television reported.

Current tests to detect the disease can either be done during an autopsy or by surgically removing samples of tissues.

But the new test can reportedly be carried out on live animals in the initial stages of the fatal brain disease, with swift and accurate results.

It would speed up the diagnosis, cut down costs and avoid mass slaughter of cattle, the report said.

The discovery came to light when the team, which was studying the brain of nine patients who died from the human variant of mad cow disease (vCJD), found a large quantity of prionic protein in the olfactory cortex - the part of the brain dealing with smell information.

This was the clue that led the scientists to search for the prion in the cattle's nose.

"For the analyses, we usually excluded the olfactory part, which is complete with sensors that reach into the nose," said professor Salvatore Monaco, leader of the research team at the University of Verona.

"It seemed impossible that nobody had thought about it before us," he said.

"But the first checks showed us immediately that we had got it right: there are prions also in the olfactory nerve."

The test, which can be carried out on nasal mucus, will be patented by the Italian National Institute of Health.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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