MELBOURNE, Australia – A simple blood test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) may soon be available after medical researchers at the Bio21 Institute at the Univ. of Melbourne made a breakthrough using genetic sequencing. The findings were recently published in the Oxford University Press Nucleic Acids Research journal.

Scientists at the institute found that cells infected with prions — the infectious agent responsible CJD, BSE and similar diseases — release particles that contain easily recognized ‘signature genes’. The particles travel through the blood stream, making a diagnostic test a possibility.

“This might provide a way to screen people who have spent time in the UK, who currently face restrictions on their ability to donate blood,” said Andrew Hill, an associate professor in the Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Bio21 Institute. “With a simple blood test nurses could deem a prospective donor’s blood as healthy, with the potential to significantly boost critical blood stocks.”

In the late 1980s, BSE was linked to the deaths of nearly 200 people in Great Britain who ate meat from infected animals. Since 2000, the Australia Red Cross Blood Service has refused blood from anybody who lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months between 1980 and 1996, or who received a blood transfusion in the UK after 1980, according to the institute.

The discovery could also lead to diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“This is an exciting new field where we can test for conditions in the brain and throughout the body, without being invasive,” said lead author Dr. Shayne Bellingham.