The Japanese government will establish a scientific centre to concentrate solely on the study of BSE, in a bid to find out how cattle become infected with the disease, and to devise the best means of diagnosing the condition prior to slaughter.

For the first time in Japan, researchers will keep several dozen cattle in a bacteria-free isolation annex, and the animals will be infected with BSE to observe the disease's effect on the internal organs over several years.

While scientists already know that the abnormal prion that causes BSE accumulates in certain body parts, it is still unknown how the prion spreads and affects the internal organs of cattle.

The scientists will also work on devising a test to diagnose the presence of BSE through urine or blood samples as currently it can only be diagnosed by studying the brains and spinal cords of slaughtered animals. If researchers can check for the presence of mad cow disease prior to slaughter, the financial risk to dairy farmers can be reduced.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has requested ¥7.9bn in this fiscal year's second supplementary budget to build the centre. And if this figure is approved, the centre could be built within this fiscal year. It will be situated in the National Institute of Animal Health, a ministry-affiliated research facility in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.