ABC Australia (Internet / TV) 07/07/06 Tests in hamsters suggest it may be possible to develop a blood test for mad cow and related diseases in both humans and animals before they develop symptoms, researchers report. The study, published in the journal Science, also suggests that the damaged brain cells may 'leak' the infectious prions that cause the diseases, offering a chance to detect the disease in blood. Professor Claudio Soto of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and colleagues infected hamsters with prions, the misfolded nerve proteins believed to cause the diseases, and then tested blood at various times. They invented a technique known as protein misfolding cyclic amplification to accelerate the process by which prions convert normal proteins to misshapen infectious forms. "With this method, for the first time we have detected prions in what we call the silent phase of infection, which in humans can last up to 40 years," Soto says. (This Reuters story has appeared widely around the world on TV and in Print.)