Researchers working for biotech giant Aventis Behring (AB) are due to unveil important developments of a new, highly sensitive test to detect the presence of prions, at the 43rd annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology today [Tuesday]. 

Delegates at the meeting, in Orlando, Florida, will hear about the effectiveness of the new rapid test, Conformation Dependent Immunoassay (CDI), for detecting small amounts of prions in otherwise normal plasma donations.

Prions are the infectious proteins that scientists believe are responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), and over the last five years, AB has invested more than US$20m toward understanding prion science.

Dr Henry Baron, senior director of medical and scientific affairs at AB, commented in a press release: “Although scientific evidence indicates that prions have never been detected in blood or plasma, AB continues to research this topic and has further improved the ability of the already highly sensitive CDI to detect spiked [planted] prions by 10-30-fold.

“We are also currently applying this technology to a research effort aimed at evaluating the capacity of our manufacturing processes to remove spiked prions. This prion clearance evaluation data will be part of our overall assessment and management of the theoretical risk of vCJD  prions in blood or plasma.”

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The CDI test was developed in collaboration with Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the 1997 Nobel Laureate, and it is an ELISA (enzyme linked immunoadsorbent assay)-formatted immunoassay.

It is important because it may potentially detect prions without scientists having to treat the test sample with proteases (enzymes that break down proteins). This means that prions that are sensitive to protease digestion, and which would therefore be missed by a protease-dependent prion immunoassay, may be detected. Its sensitivity also means that  it can detect very low levels of prions in samples infected with CJD or vCJD prions.