OCT 13, 2016 11:13 AM PDT

New Test Detects Presence of Prions in Urine

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
A new test may detect the presence of abnormal proteins indicative of a deadly prion disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). By adapting an established blood test for variant CJD, researchers at the University College London say the new test accurately picks up on prions in urine, which could enable early detection and treatment.

Abnormal prion proteins detected in urine samples | Image: pixabay.com Known formally as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), prion diseases are rare and deadly diseases of the brain. Once infected, the prion particles self-propagates and converts other proteins to be malformed, leading to irreversible destruction of brain material. CJD is among diseases known to be caused by prions.
 
Among CJD cases, the majority (around 85 percent) is sporadic, meaning they occur randomly. The other cases come from inherited mutations, or contamination with infected surgical equipment. Around 70 percent of patients diagnosed with CJD die within one year of diagnosis.
 
"Although there is currently no cure for this disease, an accurate and early diagnosis is extremely important for patients and their families. In the future, as trials of potential therapies become available, the earlier a patient can be diagnosed the more effective any treatment is likely to be,” said Graham Jackson, senior author of the study.
 
CJD is characterized by presence of prions, which are “proteinaceous infectious particles.” These abnormal proteins can be detected in the blood of patients with vCJD, commonly known as “mad cow disease.” But researchers wondered whether urine analysis will also pick up these proteins.
 
Indeed, modifications to the blood test showed that it can be adapted to urine samples. The team tried the test in 162 people – a group that consisted of healthy controls, people with CJD, and people with other types of neurodegenerative diseases. They found the test to have 100 percent specificity (no false positives). The sensitivity to CJD was lower, at 40 percent. However, the team noted that this was a marked increase from a previous test in which the sensitivity to vCJD was at 7.7 percent.
 

 While there is room for improvement in picking up prions better than just 40 percent of the time, the team say this is the first step toward better detection of prion diseases. Of note, current methods such as brain biopsy and sampling of spinal fluid are complicated and highly invasive. Furthermore, these procedures are often done to confirm suspected CJD, meaning that patients have less time to be treated and less time to grapple with the diagnosis.
 
"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. 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 […] to detect all forms of CJD,” said Jackson.

Additional sources: MNT
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 19, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 19, 2018
Could a blood test detect lung cancer?
Lung nodules are more common than most people think, and they’re benign more often than they are malignant. From the Medical University of South Caro...
APR 29, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
APR 29, 2018
CRISPR Can Now Edit Genes Outside of the Cell
The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool was made from an immune defense system used by bacteria. Scientists have found it has many applications....
MAY 10, 2018
Immunology
MAY 10, 2018
New Biomarker for Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer for both genders and for people all over the globe. This is largely due to the lack of diagnostic...
MAY 30, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 30, 2018
Diagnosing Deadly Kidney Cancers Sooner
Researchers have found that deadly kidney cancers can be identified by assessing their evolutionary path, which is different for distinct types....
JUL 19, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 19, 2018
Mom's Microbiome has a Big Impact on Kid's Autism Risk
For many years, scientists have been trying to learn more about the causes of autism....
SEP 15, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
SEP 15, 2018
Cancer & Anoikis: A Match Not Made in Heaven
Anoikis have always been intimately entwined with cancer, henceforth the quest to seek how they came to be as such....
Loading Comments...