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From: TSS ()
Subject: Re: Is It A Cluster Yet? Public Health Officials Have Few Answers About CJD Cases
Date: July 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm PST

In Reply to: Is It A Cluster Yet? Public Health Officials Have Few Answers About CJD Cases posted by TSS on July 25, 2007 at 7:19 am:

Questions linger in U.S. CJD cases

Published: Oct. 19, 2005 at 8:37 PM E-mail Story | Print Preview | License

By STEVE MITCHELL

Senior Medical Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- French researchers have ruled out the human form of mad cow disease in a deceased California man, even though they did not conduct the critical test widely regarded as the only way to determine precisely the nature of his disease, United Press International has learned.

The case of Patrick Hicks, who died last November from his condition, has remained murky from the beginning. Dr. Ron Bailey, of Riverside, Calif., the man's neurologist, had suspected the 49-year-old Hicks of having contracted variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease -- a fatal, brain-wasting illness humans can contract from eating beef products contaminated with the mad cow pathogen -- and both he and the family wanted an autopsy conducted to determine if Hicks had succumbed to the disorder.

Bailey became concerned that Hicks might have contracted vCJD because he initially had exhibited psychiatric symptoms, his illness appears to have lasted for more than one year and he showed normal brain-wave patterns via EEGs until the late stages -- all consistent with the disease. In addition, Hicks's relatively young age raised concerns, because nearly all of the more than 150 cases of vCJD detected worldwide have occurred in people under age 55.

The first hint of oddness began when, according to both Hicks's brother and mother, a team of six doctors, who they suspect were with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, visited Patrick last October while he was still alive and under care at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif.

They said they were asked to leave when the doctors arrived to examine Patrick.

CDC officials would not confirm to UPI whether they had investigated the case, but the agency's policy does require examining all suspected cases of vCJD in anyone under 55.

The family also said Loma Linda refused to released Hicks's medical records to them.

The oddities continued after Hicks's death. Bailey found it almost impossible to get an autopsy conducted on Hicks, the only way to determine conclusively whether he had variant or sporadic CJD -- a version of the disease not related to mad cow. One county coroner's office referred him to another and both refused to conduct the procedure, he said.

Then, the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center in Cleveland, Ohio -- which was established by the CDC to investigate potential vCJD cases in the United States -- dispatched a mobile autopsy company called 1-800-Autopsy, but the company failed to follow the center's protocol and did not collect frozen sections of brain, which are required for tests to determine whether the disease is vCJD or sCJD. Instead, the autopsy company fixed the entire brain in formalin.

The NPDPSC, however, considers the collection of frozen brain tissue essential to distinguishing vCJD from other forms of CJD.

"Only frozen brain tissue examination definitely confirms or excludes the diagnosis of prion disease and provides the information to identify the type of prion disease," the center's Web site says. Prions are abnormal proteins thought to play a role in causing vCJD and sCJD.

The problem raised enough concern that both Bailey and Hicks's family sought a second opinion.

Experts had told them that animal-injection studies could be done with formalin-fixed tissue, so the family arranged to have a sample of Patrick's brain sent to Dr. Jean Jacques Hauw at the Laboratoire De Neuropathologie at the Groupe Hospitalier Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, who they thought had agreed to do the studies.

The NPDPSC, however, delayed sending the sample to France for two months after the family's request last March. During the delay, Pierluigi Gambetti, the NPDPSC's director, sent a letter to Hicks's wife.

"We can definitely rule out the diagnosis of variant CJD," the letter stated.

Gambetti's strong conclusion sounded strange to Bailey, because the NPDPSC had not conducted further tests since January, when they had said vCJD was unlikely but that they were unable to rule it out entirely.

After examining the brain tissue, Hauw's team told the family the disease was consistent with sCJD, but to date they have not explained why they did not conduct the animal-injection studies -- the family's reason for sending samples of his brain to France.

Asked the reasons for not following the family's wishes and conducting the animal studies, Hauw told UPI, "I cannot answer your question," citing French regulations that prohibited him from providing information about a specific patient.

He did say, however, that "animal injection is not needed for the routine diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and its various variants, at least in France and in the United Kingdom."

That may be true, but it remains unclear why he accepted the case in the first place, knowing that is what the family wanted.

Moreover, this was not a "routine diagnosis." If Hicks suffered from vCJD, he potentially would have been the first person in the United States to have acquired the disease domestically, a development with significant domestic and international ramifications.

In addition, other experts, such as Dr. Laura Manuelidis, section chief of surgery in the neuropathology department at Yale University, have said the only way to know conclusively whether the disease is due to sCJD or vCJD is through animal-injection studies.

"From what I gather, the result was merely rubber stamped," Bailey told UPI. "I guess we will never really know for sure."

The handling of the case is noteworthy, because the NPDPSC currently is investigating nine potential sCJD cases in Idaho. Experts suspect some of those cases could be vCJD.

Bailey and some patient advocates said they are now skeptical of the NPDPSC's behavior.

"How could my experience with the Hicks case ... and the interaction with NPDPSC not lessen my confidence?" Bailey asked. "I anticipate that all of the Idaho cluster of CJD patients will turn out to have sCJD. I cannot for a minute see their results indicating anything but this. After all, if any patient were to have vCJD, it would have been Patrick Hicks. The results of NPDPSC are not definitive in excluding Hicks as not having vCJD. There certainly will always be that question in my mind."

Terry Singletary, a patient advocate whose mother died of a form of the disease called Heidenhain variant, told UPI he likewise had lost confidence in the NPDPSC.

"I do not trust them," Singletary said. "It's all going to be sporadic. This is the way they want it. They do not want to find out all the routes and sources of this agent."

Both vCJD and mad cow disease are politically sensitive issues because they can impact international trade. Dozens of nations closed their borders to American beef after a lone U.S. cow tested positive for the disease in 2003, resulting in more than $4.7 billion in losses for the industry, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture delayed doing confirmatory tests for seven months on what turned out to be a second case of mad cow.

The NPDPSC did not respond to UPI's phone call requesting comment about the Idaho cases. The CDC referred UPI to Idaho officials.

Of the nine Idaho cases, three people have tested positive for a CJD-like illness, but officials are conducting further tests to determine whether the disease is sCJD. Two others tested negative and four were buried without autopsies.

The cases could just be a statistical fluke, but the state averages about 1.2 sCJD cases per year and has never had more than three in a single year. The disease is rare and generally is thought to occur at the rate of one case per million people.

Several CJD clusters in other states have far exceeded that rate, however. These included:


--southern New Jersey (2000-2003),

--Lehigh, Pa. (1986-90),

--Allentown, Pa. (1989-92),

--Tampa, Fla. (1996-97),

--Oregon (2001-02), and

--Nassau County, N.Y. (1999-2000).


Some of the clusters involved as many as 18 deaths, and ranged from a rate of four to eight cases per million people.

A group of J.P. Morgan analysts issued an advisory last year on the impact the clusters could have on the beef industry, and said that some of the cases could be due to vCJD.

"The existence of clusters raises the question of 'contamination' or 'infection,' and also raises the hypothesis that rather than cases of sCJD, these might have been cases of vCJD," the advisory said. "Given that sCJD occurs randomly in one out of 1 million cases, it is a statistical rarity to find an sCJD cluster -- let alone six."

If that assessment is accurate, another cluster in Idaho would be even more unlikely.

Another possibility is some of the Idaho cases could be due to chronic wasting disease, which is similar to mad cow disease and currently is epidemic among deer and elk in several states, including Idaho's neighbors Wyoming and Utah.

No human cases of CWD have ever been confirmed, but the disease has been shown to infect human cells in a lab dish. Also, a team of researchers led by Jason Bartz of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., report in the November issue of the Journal of Virology they had experimentally transmitted CWD to squirrel monkeys --the first reported transmission of CWD to primates.

If CWD is capable of infecting humans, it is unknown whether the resulting disease would resemble sCJD, vCJD or a novel disorder. If the disease looks like sCJD, cases could be going undetected or misdiagnosed.


E-mail: healthbiz@upi.com

http://www.upi.com/HealthBusiness/view.php?StoryID=20051019-090103-6576r


NIH may destroy human brain collection


By Steve Mitchell
Medical Correspondent

Washington, DC, Mar. 24 (UPI) -- The National Institutes of Health may discard part or all of a rare collection that includes hundreds of human brain samples from patients that suffered from a disorder similar to mad cow disease -- unless another researcher or institution takes them on, United Press International has learned.

Several scientists said the collection, which is held by the NIH's National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. -- and includes brains and other tissue samples from people afflicted with the brain-wasting illness Creutzfeldt Jakob disease -- is irreplaceable and could even provide insight into treatments for the fatal disorder. Currently, there is no cure for CJD and patients typically die within a year after symptoms begin.

However, NIH officials in control of the collection's fate told UPI the remaining samples are of little scientific value and may be disposed of if researchers outside the agency do not claim it. That position stands in sharp contrast with CJD experts who thought the collection should be preserved.

"It's invaluable," said Dr. Paul Brown, former medical director of the NIH's Laboratory for Central Nervous System Studies, whose expertise is in CJD and mad cow disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE).

The collection is badly in need of organization and no one is certain how many brains or other tissue samples it contains, said Brown, who worked with the collection since its inception in the 1960's until his retirement last year. There could be brains, blood, spinal fluid and various other tissues from 1,000 people or more, he said. Some of the specimens would be of scientific use today, he said.

"This collection has the unique value of stretching back to the beginning of when these diseases were discovered," Brown told UPI, noting that the first samples were obtained in 1963. "It would be as though you had in your hands the possibility of finding out when AIDS started."

Bruce Johnson, a former technician at the CNSS lab who worked extensively with the collection before he retired in 2003, told UPI he was told "in two years they (NIH officials)are going to destroy it, if nobody wants it."

Eugene Major, acting director of the basic neuroscience program at the NIH, said no specific timeframe had been established.

"We have not set a firm deadline date," Major told UPI. "We are working very hard with investigators that we know in order to be able to make sure that whatever we deem is valuable is potentially kept here." Some samples already have been determined not to have any research value and have been "removed and disposed of," he said.

Others samples have been given out to Dr. David Asher at the Food and Drug Administration and Pierluigi Gambetti at the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Major maintained the remaining collection was not particularly valuable for research. "Whatever had been collected here that has not already been distributed to responsible investigators who could use them really has very little remaining value," he said.

Neither Asher nor Gambetti returned phone calls from UPI, but Brown said he thought Asher had received only a dozen or two samples at most and Gambetti had not received much at all.

Neil Cashman, a brain-disease researcher at the University of Toronto's Center for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases -- who has tried to obtain the collection from the NIH -- said it was priceless.

"It would be like destroying an art museum," Cashman told UPI. "There's all this information and insight that's locked up in these tissues and if it's destroyed it will be lost forever."

The Memorial Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases Inc., a non-profit organization consisting of more than 40 university and institute researchers from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and France, also thinks the brain collection is invaluable.

"It is the opinion of the Board of Directors ... of The MIND Inc., that the ... brain bank should not be broken up nor destroyed," said Harry E. Peery, MIND's executive director, in a letter to UPI. "We believe that this collection is of inestimable research value and should be kept intact."

The institute, at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, applied for possession of the collection in early 2004, but received a letter from the NINDS indicating the fate of the collection had not yet been determined.

"We have heard nothing further since that time" and continue to be interested in acquiring the complete collection, Peery said.

CJD belongs to a group of rare, brain-wasting disorders that are little understood, incurable and fatal. This includes mad cow disease in cows, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk. The most infamous of these illnesses in humans is variant CJD, which people can contract from eating beef products infected with the mad-cow pathogen.

Although vCJD has infected more than 154 people worldwide, only one case has ever been detected in the United States -- in a Florida woman who is thought to have contracted the disease while living in the United Kingdom. However, the NIH brain samples have never been screened for vCJD -- something Johnson thinks is critically important.

"No one has ever looked to see if any American (in the collection) in the past had variant CJD," Johnson said. "You think it would be required that they do that. You think it would be a Congressional mandate that they test these brains: 'Let's see if we've got this disease in our country.'"

Johnson noted at least one brain in the collection he personally had examined -- from a French woman collected in 1971 -- showed evidence of possible vCJD infection, but the sample needed further study to be sure.

Other samples in the collection include the brains of patients who were only 16 years old when they were diagnosed with CJD. This would be unusual for sporadic CJD, because generally it strikes those over age 60. Variant CJD, on the other hand, typically occurs in patients in their 20s or younger.

"I thought it was absolutely vital (to test these brains)," Johnson said. "Maybe there's a dozen cases in there of variant CJD."

Major disagreed. "There's really no reason to do that," he said. "The effort it would take to screen those samples ... would not give us any new insights into variant CJD beyond what it is we already know."

Johnson said he was frustrated with the NIH administration's lack of interest in preserving the collection or testing for vCJD. "They don't understand," he said, "they honest-to-god don't understand what it's all about."

Patient advocates also objected to the possible destruction of the brains.

Terry Singeltary, whose mother died of a type of CJD called Heidenhain variant in 1997, said he is outraged and families of other CJD victims probably will be, too.

"A lot of these families went through a lot of heartache and a lot of trouble to get these brain samples to the NIH," Singeltary told UPI. "Now they're just going to discard them because they're not of scientific use? That's just asinine. That stuff is valuable information."

Graham Steel, vice-chair of the Human BSE Foundation in the United Kingdom, told UPI, "The potential loss of such important tissue samples would be a massive blow for TSE (the group of diseases that includes CJD and BSE) research in the United States. This should not be allowed to happen."

Singeltary noted there currently is no cure for these diseases. "If you don't have any answers yet, why would you throw these specimens away?" he asked.

He added that more sensitive tests are just becoming available and could help determine the origin of some of the CJD cases. "We've all been sitting around waiting for more sensitive tests to get validated because we want answers," he said.

"You know, it must be an embarrassment," Johnson said. "Some Senator is going to eventually say 'What is NIH doing about mad cow disease?' And people are going to scratch their heads and say 'not much'." He added, "What's going to happen (is) one of these senators or their wife is going to develop spontaneous CJD one day and ... there's going to be hell raised and they're going to ask, 'Why isn't NIH working on this?'"

--


E-mail sciencemail@upi.com

http://www.washtimes.com/upi-breaking/20050323-053919-8481r.htm


NIH sends mixed signals on CJD brains


By Steve Mitchell
Medical Correspondent


Washington, DC, Apr. 7 (UPI) -- A National Institutes of Health official who told United Press International the agency might destroy its collection of brains from human patients afflicted with a condition similar to mad cow disease reportedly has told the head of a patient-advocate group the collection would be preserved.


The official, Eugene Major, acting director of the basic neuroscience program at the NIH, has not responded to e-mail or a phone call from UPI seeking clarification of his remarks, and the official status of the collection remains unknown.

As reported by UPI on March 24, the collection is stored in freezers by the NIH's National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. It contains brains and other tissue samples from hundreds of people who died from the brain-wasting illness Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, as well as tissues from an untold number of experimental animals.

The consensus of scientists in this field is the collection, which dates back to 1963, is invaluable for research and could even provide insight into treatments for the fatal disorder. Currently, there is no cure for CJD and patients typically die within a year after symptoms begin.

Florence Kranitz, president of the non-profit advocacy group CJD Foundation, told UPI she had "a very long conversation" with Major, in which he told her the remaining tissues in the collection would not be destroyed.

"He reassured me in no uncertain terms," Kranitz said, noting constituents of the foundation and other CJD advocacy groups had been expressing concerns to her the tissues would be destroyed.

Kranitz, who has personal reasons for wanting the collection preserved -- her husband died of CJD in 2000 -- said she plans to meet with Major at the end of April to discuss the issue further.

CJD belongs to a group of diseases collectively known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs, that includes mad cow disease in cows, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and scrapie in sheep. All TSEs are incurable and fatal.

Major previously told UPI some samples already have been destroyed and others have been given to researchers at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center in Cleveland.

Major said the remaining collection "has very little remaining value" and could be destroyed if another entity does not claim them.

Bruce Johnson, a former NIH scientist who retired at the end of 2003, said he had been told the collection would be destroyed in two years if no one took the samples from the NIH.

In response to hearing that Major had failed to confirm to UPI the brain collection would not be destroyed, Patricia Ewanitz, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and is founder of the advocacy group CJD Voice, said, "The brain tissue might not be indispensable to the National Institutes of Health but it is absolutely necessary to the families who thought enough of science to donate the brains, brain tissue and blood in hopes of someday finding an answer to why their loved one died."

Ewanitz, whose husband died of CJD in 1997, added, "It now seems like such a joke."

Terry Singeltary, whose mother passed away from a type of CJD in 1997, said the NIH should use the samples for scientific research, not just store them in freezers.

Both Singeltary and Ewanitz said they would feel more reassured if Major verified in writing the collection will not be destroyed.

"I would go further and ask Major what he plans to do with them," Singeltary said. "If the samples are just going to sit up there and go bad, then they should give them out to researchers looking for cause and cure."

The revelation the NIH might destroy part or all of the collection sparked an outcry from patient advocates, consumer groups and scientists.

Advocates have been contacting their members of Congress, urging them to investigate and prevent the NIH from destroying the brains. Consumer groups also have gotten involved and scientists have taken steps to obtain the collection or have urged Major not to destroy the samples.

Felicia Nestor, who serves as a consultant to Public Citizen, told UPI she had contacted certain legislators and at least one was considering looking into the situation. Nestor asked the legislator's name be withheld.

Kranitz said Major also told her he plans "to advertise in professional neurological journals and by whatever means necessary to make it known" to researchers in the field the tissues are available.

Major previously said, however, that efforts to inform researchers of the availability of the collection were already underway and included informing NIH grantees. He added he had personally notified researchers at scientific meetings, but no TSE researcher contacted by UPI was aware of this.

"I was never informed," said Laura Manuelidis, an expert on these diseases and section chief of surgery in the neuropathology department at Yale University. She said the first she had heard of the situation was in UPI's March 24 report.

Manuelidis also said she contacted Major, expressing interest in the specimens, but so far has not received a response.

"I sent a letter to (Major) on (March 25) about our interest in these specimens, but he has not replied," she told UPI in an e-mail.

Neil Cashman, a TSE expert at the University of Toronto, who said he was not aware the samples might be destroyed, has lobbied colleagues at the University of British Columbia -- where Cashman is scheduled to move to this summer -- to help draft a letter requesting the collection.

The Memorial Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases Inc., a non-profit organization consisting of more than 40 university and institute researchers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and France, requested the collection in January, 2004. So far, the institute has not been informed of a decision by the NIH.

Asked if Major had told him whether the collection would be preserved, MIND Executive Director Harry Peery said, "We have heard nothing further from Eugene Major or anyone else at the NIH regarding the brain collection."

--

E-mail: sciencemail@upi.com

http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050407-110535-2570r.htm


=====================

JOHN CORNYN
TEXAS
UNITED STATES SENATE
WASHINGTON, DC 20510-4305
April 26,2005
Mr. Terry Singeltary
P.O. Box 42
Bacliff, Texas 77518
Dear Mr. Singeltary:
In response to your recent request for my assistance, I have contacted the National Institutes ofHealth. I will write you again as soon as I receive a reply.
I appreciate having the opportunity to represent you in the United States Senate and to be of service in this matter.
Sincerely,

JOHN CORNYN
United States Senator
JC:djl


===============

JOHN CORNYN

TEXAS

UNITED STATES SENATE

WASHINGTON, DC 20510-4305

May 18,2005

Mr. Terry SingeltaryP.O. Box 42Bacliff, Texas 77518

Dear Mr. Singeltary:

Enclosed is the reply I received from the Department of Health and Human Services in
response to my earlier inquiry on your behalf. I hope this will be useful to you.
I appreciate having the opportunity to represent you in the United States Senate.

Thank you for taking time to contact me.

Sincerely,

JOHN CORNYN
United States Senate
JC:djl
Enclosure

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES
National Institutes of HealthNational Institute of NeurologicalDisorders and Stroke
NINDS
Building 31, Room 8A52
31 Center Dr., MSC 2540
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-2540
Phone: 301-496-9746
Fax: 301-496-0296
Email: [log in to unmask]


May 10, 2005


The Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senator
Occidental Tower5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 1150
Dallas, Texas 75244-6199


Dear Senator Cornyn:


Your letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) forwarding correspondence from Mr. Terry S. Singeltary, Sr., has been forwarded to me for reply. Mr. Singeltary is concerned about thepreservation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) brain samples that have been maintained by theNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Intramural Research programfor many years.

I am sorry to learn that Mr. Singeltary's mother died of CJD and can certainly understand hisdesire that any tissues that could help investigators unravel the puzzle of this deadly disease arepreserved. I hope he will be pleased to learn that all the brains and other tissues with potential tohelp scientists learn about CJD are, and will continue to be, conserved. (The tissues that arediscarded are those that have either decayed to an extent that renders them no longer appropriatefor research or those for which we do not have sufficient identification.)

The purpose of gathering these brains and tissues is to help scientists learn about CJD. To that end, some of the NINDS-held samples are distributed to investigators who can demonstrate thatthey have a compelling research or public health need for such materials. For example, sampleshave been transferred to NIH grantee Dr. Pierluigi Gambetti, who heads the National PrionDiseases Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and workswith the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor all cases of CJD in the UnitedStates. Dr. Gambetti studies the tissues to learn about the formation, physical and chemicalproperties, and pathogenic mechanisms of prion proteins, which are believed to be involved inthe cause of CJD. Samples have also been transferred to Dr. David Asher, at the U.S. Food andDrug Administration, for use in assessing a potential diagnostic test for CJD.


Page 2 - The Honorable John Cornyn


in closing, we know that donating organs and tissue from loved ones is a very difficult andpersonal choice that must often be made at the most stressful of times. We at the NINDS aregrateful to those stalwart family members who make this choice in the selfless hope that it willhelp others afflicted with CJD. We also know the invaluable contribution such donations maketo the advancement of medical science, and we are dedicated to the preservation of all of thetissue samples that can help in our efforts to overcome CJD.


I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to Mr. Singeltary.
Sincerely,

Story C. Landis, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute ofNeurological Disorders and Stroke

==================================

NIH says it will preserve CJD brains
By STEVE MITCHELL

WASHINGTON, May 31 (UPI) -- The National Institutes of Health apparently has reversed its position on the fate of an invaluable collection of brains from people afflicted with a condition similar to mad cow disease, saying in a letter to a U.S. senator it will not destroy the collection.

An NIH official had told United Press International previously that the brain collection, which consists of samples from hundreds of people who died from the brain-wasting illness called Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, could be discarded if another entity does not claim them.

That sparked an outcry from patient-advocacy groups, consumer watchdogs and scientists, and the agency now appears to have backed away from that course.

"All the brains and other tissues with potential to help scientists learn about CJD are, and will continue to be, conserved," Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which oversees the brain collection, wrote in a May 10 letter to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Cornyn had inquired about the status of the collection in April.

Last March, Eugene Major, acting director of the basic neuroscience program at the NIH, told UPI the useful portions of the collection had been doled out to scientists and the remaining samples had "very little remaining value" and could be destroyed.

Landis could not be reached for comment Tuesday. NINDS spokesman Paul Girolami told UPI he had been unable to locate her.

Scientists think the collection, which dates back to 1963, is invaluable for research on CJD and similar diseases and could even provide insight into treatments. There is no cure for CJD and patients typically die within a year after symptoms begin.

"Absolutely, the collection is worth keeping," Bruce Johnson, a former NIH scientist who said he had been told the collection would be destroyed in two years if no one took the samples from the agency, told UPI.

The Memorial Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases Inc., a non-profit organization consisting of more than 40 researchers from several countries, offered to take the collection off of NIH's hands more than a year ago and so far has not heard anything from the agency, Harry Peery, MIND's executive director, told UPI.

CJD belongs to a group of incurable and fatal diseases collectively known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs, that includes mad cow disease in cows, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and scrapie in sheep.

Variant CJD, or vCJD, is a relatively new TSE, which people can contract from consuming beef products infected with the mad cow pathogen.

Despite Landis' assurance the collection will be preserved, some family members of the patients who donated their brains to the NIH are still skeptical. This is because the wording Landis used in the letter leaves open the possibility that some brain samples are being destroyed.

"The tissues that are discarded are those that have either decayed to an extent that renders them no longer appropriate for research or those for which we do not have sufficient identification," Landis wrote.

"Which ones" are being destroyed? asked Terry Singeltary, who is involved with several CJD patient groups.

"With a system like this, they could destroy whatever and whenever they wanted, for whatever reason they wanted," Singeltary, whose mother died of CJD in 1997, told UPI.

"It's a perfect excuse to discard some suspicious tissue resembling vCJD or some atypical TSE related to animal TSEs in the USA," he added.

Although the collection includes samples from CJD patients as young as 16 that could make them candidates for possible vCJD, the brains have never been screened for evidence of the disease. The only confirmed vCJD case in the United States occurred in a Florida woman who is thought to have contracted the disease in England.

Johnson said he along with renowned CJD expert Paul Brown were in the process of sorting through the samples to match them up with patient identification documents until they both retired. Some of the samples may prove impossible to identify, he said, but he and Brown are the only ones familiar enough with the collection to organize it and neither has been asked back by the agency to aid in the identification process.

Steve Mitchell is UPI's Medical Correspondent. E-mail: [log in to unmask]

Copyright 2005 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.


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TSS



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