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Scientists make major breakthrough in treating vCJD

According to a study published in the scientific journal Nature, scientists believe they may have made an important discovery in their research into vCJD, the human variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).   CJD is a rare but fatal brain disorder.  The disease became headline news in the 1990s after people ate BSE infected beef.  This was the largest known outbreak of its kind in the world, with 175 cases recorded by the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit in the UK.

Professor John Collinge at UCL has studied the cannibal behaviour of a tribe in Papua New Guinea, who ate their dead at mortuary feasts.  This led to a major epidemic of kuru, a form of CJD.  At its height in the late 1950's, kuru caused the death of up to 2% of the population each year.  Professor Collinge discovered that some of the population had become immune to the disease after a change in the prion protein gene.  When he tested his discovery on mice, he found that the mice became immune not only to kuru but also to vCJD.   According to Professor Collinge if scientists can now understand how this gene works they could find a way to prevent not only CJD, but other dementias.

The Secretary of State in October 2000 announced that the British Government would pay compensation to the victims of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) and their families.  Consultations with representatives of families affected by vCJD were held, and details of the Scheme were announced on 1 October 2001.  The Government committed the sum of £67.5 million for up to the first 250 cases.  The total number of cases of vCJD is uncertain. However, It is believed that up to 30,000 people, or one in 2,000, could be silently carrying vCJD, but it could take decades to know the full extent of the problem.  The Government will review the Scheme if the total exceeds 250 but this research may help to ensure that the disease does not spread.

Members of the clinical negligence team at Fieldfisher have been acting for the Trustees of the Government Scheme since its inception in 2001.  Over £41million has been paid in compensation to date.

Read more at the BBC website

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