British scientists say they’ve found a chemical signature of mad cow disease in the brains of people with a human brain-wasting illness, adding to evidence that the people got sick from eating contaminated beef.
An American scientist familiar with the study said the findings provide “a very strong suggestion” that the disease that wrecked the British beef industry had jumped to humans.
Professor John Collinge of London’s Imperial College School of Medicine, who led the study, acknowledged Tuesday that the discovery is not conclusive proof that the diseases are linked.
But he said it boosts the theory that mad cow disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was transmitted to people to become a new variant of the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, called CJD.
Europe’s beef industry was thrown into turmoil when the British government announced in March that eating beef contaminated with mad cow disease was the “most likely” cause of a new strain of CJD in humans which has killed 12 young Britons.
So far, the link has not been scientifically proven, but many scientists believe it exists. Some believe British cattle developed mad cow disease after eating feed that included offal from sheep infected with the degenerative disease scrapie. Such feeding was outlawed in 1989.