CJD patients to receive specialist treatment at first dedicated clinic

CJD patients to receive specialist treatment at first dedicated clinic

June 21, 2001 The Independent (London) by Michael Durham

THE WORLD'S first clinic to specialise in treatment for patients suffering from the human form of mad cow disease is to open in London.

The National Prion Clinic, at St Mary's Hospital, will be the first treatment centre in the UK devoted to variant CJD and related brain diseases

Funded by the Department of Health the clinic will provide support and medical care for patients diagnosed with the illness and offer tests to eliminate the disease for people suffering similar symptoms.

Professor John Collinge, one of the world's leading experts on the condition and director of the clinic, said: "Prion diseases cause degeneration of the nervous system and often resembles other more common disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease or Huntington's chorea.

"We want clinicians to refer patients to us at an early stage, even when the diagnosis may be unclear."

Symptoms of the human form of BSE include a loss of balance, mood swings and impaired memory, followed by progressive degeneration. Early symptoms can be similar to dementia.

At present, it is impossible to tell if someone has variant CJD before the symptoms begin to show, and the diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after death when brain tissue is examined.

There are growing fears among the scientific community that thousands of people could become ill with variant CJD in the next few years. The number of people known to have died so far is 102.

The new clinic will offer diagnostic facilities including genetic analysis and tonsil biopsy, to establish if patients are suffering from a prion disease. Patients will be able to have brain imaging tests and, if necessary, be admitted to hospital.

The clinic will operate closely with the Medical Research Council's Prion Unit, headed by Prof Collinge, which is investigating variant CJD. A range of hi-tech diagnostic facilities will be available at the clinic, including molecular genetic analysis and brain imaging.

The unit will also respond to inquiries from the public and provide information about prion diseases.

News of the clinic was announced at the World Congress of Neurology meeting taking place in Earl's Court, London, yesterday.

The conference was told of high hopes that a cure for variant CJD could be available within the next five years. Government-backed researchers are working with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to find a drug that can halt the disease.

Prof Collinge said his team had been sifting through the drug company's vast libraries of chemicals looking for promising compounds.

Diseases such as variant CJD and BSE are transmitted via rogue prion proteins that have changed shape. The scientists are looking for a chemical that can stop this deadly transformation taking place.

"We think it's possible ... that in the next five years we may be able to produce something that blocks prion replication and provides a treatment for this disease." said Prof Collinge. "The work we've been doing has been very encouraging."

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