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Health Insight October 2002: The search for a CJD drug

  So far 127 people, mainly from Britain, have contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCjD). But the idea that thousands more may have caught the disease from BSE-infected beef is driving research. Last year the former anti-malarial drug quinacrine was first tried as a treatment for the disease, giving remission to British patient Rachael Forbes. She stopped taking the drug after liver complications and died last December. This promoted the UK government to say it would carry out human trials of quinacrine, but this has yet to happen. A spokesman for the Medical Research Council, which is organising the research, said, ‘The trial design is still being peer-reviewed. These things can take quite a time.’ The Department of Health is also investigating pentosan polysulphate, a chemical sometimes used to treat cystitis. The drug hasn’t yet been tested on people with CJD, but it is known to reduce infection rates in mice exposed to scrapie, the prion brain disease that affects sheep.

As last month drew to a close, twenty-four patients from Middlesbrough General Hospital on Teeside were told they may have been infected with ‘sporadic’ CJD through instruments used on a woman diagnosed with the brain disease. In what the Department of Health termed an ‘appalling safety lapse’ the equipment was not decontaminated properly after being used for a brain biopsy in July. Despite the diagnosis of CJD following two weeks later it took until late October for a decision to be made to start contacting those at risk. The strain of the illness involved – sporadic CJD – is not linked to eating beef from a BSE-infected cow. It accounts for around eighty-five per cent of all cases of the illness and can have an incubation period of up to twenty years.

Source: New Scientist 26th October, BBC Online

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