Creuzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD), known more commonly as ‘mad cow disease’, caused a major scare in the 1990s. But now it’s lambs rather than cows that some are concerned about.
A question mark over the safety of lamb has been raised after scientists found that a deadly brain disease affecting sheep has the potential to infect humans.
The disease, named scrapie, is similar to variant CJD that previously spread from cows to humans through infected meat.
Researchers have now found evidence linking the infectious agent behind scrapie with sporadic CJD (sCJD), a fatal human disease thats cause has never been known.
The scientists stress they have no proof that eating mutton or lamb infected with scrapie can lead to sCJD in humans.
But tests on humanised laboratory mice show that potentially scrapie is capable of infecting humans. And the way the infection spreads in the brain is identical to that seen in cases of sCJD.
The scientists, led by Dr Olivier Andreoletti, from the National Veterinary School of Toulouse in France, wrote in the journal Nature Communications: “Our data on their own do not unequivocally establish a causative link between natural exposure to sheep scrapie and the subsequent appearance of sCJD in humans.
“However, our studies clearly point out the need to consider this possibility.”
Both scrapie and different forms of CJD are caused by rogue misshapen prion proteins.
Normal prions that come into contact with the defective versions are changed too and turn “bad”. In this way the infection spreads, inflicting terrible damage to the brain.