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In spite  of the  known existence of  Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy  (BSE)
for over a  decade and the research carried  out in this area  to date, there
are still major gaps in our knowledge of the disease.   This was stated today
by Mr  Franz FISCHLER, Commissioner  for Agriculture  and Rural  Development,
when  he announced  in  conjunction  with  Professor  Charles  WEISSMANN  the
results  of the Weissmann group  regarding priorities for  research on BSE in
the  future.   Mr  FISCHLER  went on  to  say that  the  absence of  absolute
scientific certainty  on BSE makes it all the more difficult to deal with the
crisis  in a rational and methodical way as  opponents to any approach chosen
can cast doubt  on its scientific justification given that  virtually nothing
about  BSE has  been 100%  confirmed  scientifically.   It is  imperative, he
said, both  from the point  of view  of protecting human  health and also  to
have the disease eradicated  as fast as possible that  the research effort be
increased substantially in the immediate future. 

The nature of  diseases such as BSE, with incubation periods which run from 2
to 30 years depending  on species, has meant that the results of  some of the
first experiments started  in the period 1989  to 1991 only  became available
in 1994  to 1995.    Also,  in 1995,  new  experimental tools  were  becoming
available.   As  part of  the assessment  of the  results in this  period, it
became apparent that a  review of the research needs was  necessary.  In this
light,  Mr FISCHLER  in  autumn 1995  asked  Professor WEISSMANN,  of  Zurich
University, and an eminent expert in this field, to chair a group  of leading
scientific  experts to study  this matter  and to report  back.   The mandate
given  to the  group specifically  states  the necessity  to  look at  issues
relating to transmissibility of  BSE to man, and  methods of testing for  the
disease in live animals and people. 

Professor WEISSMANN  presented a draft position  paper to Mr FISCHLER,  which
is  a framework for future research activities.   It identifies the areas for
research, but it  also identifies some of  the potential problems which  will
be encountered, and which cannot be overcome overnight.   There are few rapid
answers in  this area.   The paper does not  contain details  of experimental
protocols; further work will be necessary  to establish these,  estimate  the
costs, and identify the laboratories which will  do the work.  The paper also
makes a useful summary of the state of knowledge in the key areas. 

The following  is  a list  of areas  considered  by the  group as  worthy  of
research : 

-    research aimed at  establishing whether or not BSE has  been transmitted
     to man; 

-    working  on the  hypothesis that  BSE  may be  transmissible  to man,  a
     number  of suggestions  are put  forward aimed  at  establishing a  risk
     assessment  such  as work  on  determining  whether multiple  dosing  is
     cumulative and  an estimation of the  utilisation of offal in  different
     human  food  products prior  to  the ban  and  the consumption  of those
     products by individual age groups and socio-economic criteria;

-    is there infectivity in BSE-infected cattle  derived products other than
     SBO (Specified Bovine Offal) ?;

-    further research to  establish the precise reason or route  for maternal
     transmission of BSE in some cases;

-    establish if it is possible that BSE originated as a (rare)  spontaneous
     event  in cattle and that  the BSE  agent is different  from the scrapie
     agent; 

-    can BSE be transmitted orally to pigs ?; 

-    research into the development of diagnostic techniques for BSE and CJD;

-    establish  the  efficiency of  BSE inactivation  procedures used  in the
     food and pharmaceutical industry;

-    certain  areas are  suggested for  research into  developing therapeutic
     treatment   for victims of  the CJD disease and  also into  developing a
     test which would indicate those people susceptible to the disease; 

-    predictive  research is  also proposed  as it  has been  shown that  CJD
     occurs rarely in individuals with certain genes.  This factor  should be
     monitored,   and   the  possibility   of   a  test   to  determine   the
     susceptibility of individuals to CJD using this knowledge is suggested;

-    it  is proposed  to examine whether  it may be  possible to generate BSE
     resistant cattle and sheep; 

-    a  number  of  areas of  research  are  also  proposed  with a  view  to
     improving  the  knowledge   and  understanding  of  the  nature  of  the
     infectious agent known as the "prion".

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