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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 09:59 GMT
'Needless delay' in BSE sheep test
Sheep
There are still concerns over whether BSE is in sheep
Scientists could have discovered whether BSE is in the national sheep flock several years ago, according to one of the UK Government's senior advisers on the disease.


There does seem to be initially some reluctance to take these techniques forward. I think we could have answered the question several years ago

Professor John Collinge
The government's Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VLA) is set to announce that it has developed a fast biochemical test for detecting BSE in sheep.

But Professor John Collinge told the BBC the test could have been developed several years ago had the VLA devoted more resources to the project and sought outside expertise.

He claims he developed the basis of the test for the VLA four years ago.

He said: "It has been very disappointing it has taken so long. There does seem to be initially some reluctance to take these techniques forward.

"I think we could have answered the question several years ago."

Refined techniques

The VLA says more research is required to determine whether it can distinguish BSE-like agents from all forms of scrapie but scientists hope to have a working test within months.

The VLA's chief executive Steve Edwards denies his department dragged its heels over developing a test.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "It is important to realise the initial work was done in mice and we didn't know whether it would work in sheep or not.

"The VLA scientists worked with Professor Collinge and we showed that in sheep there was some promise of a test but it was not totally reliable and needed a lot more work."

He said over the last five years, the VLA had taken Professor Collinge's technique and refined it to make it easier to differentiate between BSE and scrapie.

The move comes in the wake of a bungled four-year study into whether BSE was in sheep.

Initial findings that one per cent of sheep might have BSE were explained when last minute tests showed that the brains being tested were in fact those of cows.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"The issue of BSE in sheep is still not settled"
Chief Exec of the VLA Steve Edwards
"I am convinced that the quality of our science is outstanding"

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See also:

22 Oct 01 | UK
BSE mix-up lab shifts blame
18 Oct 01 | UK
Sheep BSE research 'flawed'
28 Sep 01 | UK
Q&A: BSE in sheep
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