U.S. steps up BSE research

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WASHINGTON – The United States is hoping to improve scientific understanding of BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease,” and related diseases known as TSEs.

U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Tommy G. Thompson unveiled a plan to further strengthen surveillance, increase research resources, and expand existing inspection efforts to prevent BSE and TSEs from entering or taking hold in the United States.

“We’ve already taken numerous precautionary steps at the federal and local levels to prevent BSE from occurring in the U.S. food supply, but we must continue to strengthen our understanding of this disease,” said Thompson.

Fatal disease. BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), first identified in 1986 in the United Kingdom, is a fatal disease that causes progressive neurological degeneration in cattle. It is one of a family of diseases called TSEs, or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, named for the sponge-like gaps that develop in the brain tissue of diseased animals or people.

One TSE disease that affects humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and a form of this disease, variant CJD (vCJD), is probably related to the BSE disease of cattle. There is strong scientific evidence that the agent that causes BSE in cattle is the agent that causes vCJD in people.

There have been cases of vCJD reported in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. There are no reported cases of BSE or vCJD in the United States.

Surveillance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will enhance its current program to identify and investigate possible cases of vCJD.

CDC will also increase its technical assistance to state and local health personnel, develop new laboratory capacity and enhance its current collaborative agreement with the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University.

Protection. The Food and Drug Administration, in partnership with the USDA, oversees efforts to prevent transmission of BSE and other TSEs through food products. FDA will review and expand its import inspection programs to keep potentially infected food products out of the United States, and its animal feed inspection program to prevent the use of mammalian protein in feed for ruminant animals such as cows and sheep.

Additionally, FDA will broaden its policies where appropriate to prevent potential transmission through FDA-regulated products including drugs, medical devices, vaccines and other biological products, cosmetics, food and food additives and dietary supplements.

Research. Under the new action plan, the National Institutes of Health will more than double its current spending for research on TSEs, including BSE and vCJD, by the end of fiscal year 2002.

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