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CJD linked to brain contact with steel

Infectious agents of the sort believed to cause mad cow disease in humans can appear “as if from nowhere” when healthy brain tissue comes into contact with steel, scientists said yesterday.

The startling observation was made by British researchers developing a sensitive test to detect the proteins on metal surfaces.

They believe that although very rare, the phenomenon might explain some cases of so-called “sporadic” Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Fatal diseases such as CJD in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep are thought to be transmitted by “misfolded” prion proteins that leave the brain riddled with holes.

Although prion protein is a normal part of the brain, the abnormally-shaped prions can be highly destructive. They also have the ability to pass their defect on to other prions they come into contact with, thereby spreading the infection.

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