Medical Discovery NewsBridging the World of Medical Discovery and You

Recent Episodes

Mad Cow


Since the big scare of Mad Cow disease in the 90s, the number of cases of people infected with the human form of the disease has been steadily declining. But a new study in Britain, where the disease was first diagnosed, found one in two thousand Britons may still harbor the mutated proteins called prions.

Prions are misfolded proteins which convert healthy proteins into misfolded ones that build up over time. In humans, Mad Cow, known as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease or vCJD. It's passed onto people when they eat infected beef neurological material, such as spinal cord and brain, as well as the spleen and tonsil.

The study tested for presence of specific prions in thirty two thousand donated appendices and sixteen were positive which extrapolates to one in two thousand in the general population. But that doesn't mean all those people will develop the disease because it's possible in some people, the protein may not lead to vCJD.

Prion build up in the brain causes plaques that eventually cause brain damage. Once people begin showing symptoms, most die within eight months. There is no treatment or cure. So far one hundred seventy seven Britons have died from vCJD.

Scientists had believed the incubation period for vCJD was about eight years, but now they think that there are at least three variants of the misfolded prion protein. So, many more people could be unaware they have the disease. Since there is no blood test for vCJD, carriers of it could unwittingly pass on this disease to others when they give blood.

Hopefully, blood tests will be developed to protect against the inadvertent transmission of vCJD. Much has been done on farms to prevent the spread of Mad Cow, but further foolproof approaches are still needed.

More Information

30,000 may carry human form of mad cow
"Up to 30,000 people in Britain may be silent carriers of the human form of mad cow disease, according to new research published Tuesday."

Problematic prions and the history of Mad Cow Disease
"A dairy cow from California was recently diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease."

One in 2,000 UK people might carry vCJD proteins
"Prevalence of infectious prions raises questions over risk of clinical disease."


Medicine is constantly advancing – that is a great thing about life in the 21st century. But it doesn’t just happen. Dedicated biomedical scientists are making discoveries that translate into those new medical advances.

Biomedical science is broad, encompassing everything from social science to microbiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, to structural biology and bioinformatics to name just a few areas. And, it can involve basic fundamental biology, the use of AI and chemistry to clinical studies that evaluate new medicines in patients.

No matter the research focus, the goal is always the same, to advance human health. It may take a few months, a few years or for fundamental science, a few decades. Few people make the connection that biomedical science is medicine and that biomedical scientists are working today on the medicine of tomorrow. Our weekly 500-word newspaper columns and 2-minute radio shows and podcasts provide insights into a broad range of biomedical science topics.

Medical Discovery News is dedicated to explaining discoveries in biomedical research and their promise for the future of medicine.


Alternatively, you can copy and paste the following web address (URL) into iTunes as a new subscription:

You can also search and subscribe to "Medical Discovery News" in the podcast section of iTunes.

See all podcasts and radio stations

The web site and Medical Discovery News radio program (Program) are made possible by The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB)as a community service and are intended to advance UTMB's mission of providing scholarly teaching, innovative scientific investigation, and state-of-the-art patient care in a learning environment to better the health of society and its commitment to the discovery of new innovative biomedical and health services knowledge leading to increasingly effective and accessible health care for the citizens of Texas.

All information provided on the web site and in the Program is for informational purposes only and is not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as a substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Any information obtained by participating as a web site visitor or program listener is not intended to and should not be considered to constitute medical advice.

Thoughts and opinions expressed on the Program or on the website are those of the authors or guests and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UTMB. The provision of links to other websites is not to be construed as written or implied sponsorship or endorsement of such websites by UTMB.

Please contact Dr. David Niesel or Dr. Norbert Herzog via email with any concerns, suggestions or comments.

All rights are reserved to information provided on the website or other information sources. No part of these programs can be reproduced stored in a retrieval system or transcribed in any form or by any means for personal or financial gained without the express written permission of Drs. Niesel and Dr. Herzog.