Health experts in US raise new concerns about mad cow disease

Health experts in US raise new concerns about mad cow disease

August 20, 2001 CBS Morning News (6:30 AM ET)


US health officials have so far successfully kept Europe's mad cow disease out of this country. But now medical experts are raising new concerns. Sharyl Attkisson reports.


Amid growing concern that Europe's mad cow disease could spread to animals or people in the US, health officials have cracked down on the US blood supply, vaccines and animal feed, all possible sources of transmission. But some medical experts argue one danger has been seriously overlooked: common surgery in which tissue from cadavers is used to repair brain injuries in living patients.

Dr. PETER LURIE (Deputy Director, Public Citizen Health Research Group): There could be disease transmitted from dead donors to live people during operations on their brain.

ATTKISSON: Dr. Peter Lurie says it may only be a matter of time. There are already dozens of cases in which a close cousin to mad cow has been spread from cadavers to people through brain grafts. Both illnesses attack the brain, and are always fatal. Because of the risk, the head of neurosurgery at the University of Virginia won't transplant the tissue from cadavers anymore.

Dr. JOHN JANE Sr. (Editor, The Journal of Neurosurgery): It should be banned. I see no reason for it. It--it's just--it's a risk without a benefit.

ATTKISSON: On the other side of the issue are neurosurgeons like Dr. Raymond Sawaya, who argue there's simply nothing more effective than the human tissue.

Dr. RAYMOND SAWAYA (University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center): We need to remember that that human tissue is and remains the gold standard with which other materials are being compared, and to me, I think this--this says a lot.

ATTKISSON: The alternatives, synthetic material or animal grafts, are both used in Great Britain and Japan, countries which banned cadaver brain tissue years ago. The World Health Organization advises doctors only to use the human material when there's no other option.

Dr. Jane has now joined with the watchdog group Public Citizen in asking the FDA to ban the use of cadaver tissue in human brain surgery, claiming it poses a needless risk at a time when the US is working so hard to keep out any form of mad cow disease. Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News, Washington.

KAUFFMAN: Coming up on "The Early Show," some tips on how to make that back-to-school transition a smooth one for your kids; a look at the controversy over the new Disney film, "Bubble Boy" and a visit with the tennis-playing Williams sisters, both Venus and Serena.

I'm Hattie Kauffman, and this is the CBS MORNING NEWS.

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