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Urine test may detect Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

By Ryan Maass
MRC scientists believe a urine test is a critical step forward for fighting the incurable Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Photo by Sbrandner
MRC scientists believe a urine test is a critical step forward for fighting the incurable Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Photo by Sbrandner

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Medical Research Council in Britain have discovered it may be possible to test patients for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease using urine samples.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, is a rare degenerative brain disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 1 million people globally. The illness is characterized by diminished memory, behavioral changes, and hallucinations. The National Institutes of Health estimates 90 percent of all individuals who contract CJD die within one year. There is no known cure.

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Currently, medical professionals screen patients for CJD by using MRI scans, brain biopsies, or taking samples of cerebrospinal fluid. Patients typically have just weeks to live by the time their diagnosis is confirmed.

For the study, published in JAMA Neurology, scientists used blood samples to test the urine of patients with CJD. In total, 162 people were tested, including 91 controls who did not have the disease. Urine samples from patients with the disease were found to have high levels of prions, infectious agents associated with CJD and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle.

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While the study's authors concede the disease remains incurable, they contend an improved diagnostic procedure marks significant progress.

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"This test could be a critical step forward in being able to identify disease sufferers early using a simple test, perhaps at the first signs of being unwell or even as part of routine screening," lead author Dr. Graham Jackson said in a press release. "By studying the nature of these disease-specific forms of the prion protein we hope to be able to improve the reliability and speed of the test to a point where it could one day be routinely used by clinicians including GPs to detect all forms of CJD."

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