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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
NHS to open CJD clinic
Brain with CJD
The clinic will provide support and care for patients with CJD
A London hospital is to open an NHS clinic specialising in the treatment of people with the brain disease variant CJD.

The National Prion Clinic at St Mary's Hospital will be the first treatment centre in the UK devoted to variant CJD (vCJD), also known as mad cow disease, and related brain diseases.

The clinic's director is Professor John Collinge, one of the world's leading experts on the family of prion diseases.

He told the World Congress of Neurology that hopes were high there could be a cure for vCJD within the next five years.

Prions are infectious agents that cause fatal brain diseases such as vCJD in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and scrapie in animals.

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

Professor John Collinge

Incubation period

Following infection, there is a very long incubation period before symptoms of the disease occur.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, 102 cases of vCJD have been recorded to date in humans in the UK.

But it remains unclear how many other people have been exposed to BSE and what proportion of these will eventually develop the human form of the disease.

BSE was first spotted in cattle in the 1980's

Prof Collinge said: "Prion diseases cause degeneration of the nervous system and the symptoms often resemble other more common disorders, for instance, Alzheimer's disease or Huntingdon's chorea.

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

"It is possible that there are many thousands of people infected by CJD prions."

However, Professor Collinge predicted that a cure for vCJD may be on the horizon. He is working on a possible drug with pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline.

"We think it's possible, although one can't make any promises, that in the next five years we may be able to produce something that blocks prion replication and provides a treatment for this disease."

Hi-tech facilities

The new clinic, funded by the Department of Health, is expected to open its doors to patients this year.

It will provide support and medical care for patients with suspected or confirmed prion diseases as well as advice to families, carers and health professionals.

The clinic will operate closely with the Medical Research Council's Prion Unit, headed by Professor Collinge, which is investigating vCJD and possible tests to diagnose the disease in its early stages.

A range of hi-tech diagnostic facilities will be available at the clinic, including molecular genetic analysis and brain imaging.

In addition, the unit will respond to inquiries from the public and provide information about prion diseases.

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Health
'vCJD may take 30 years to show'
24 May 01 | Health
CJD claims 100th victim
18 Mar 01 | Health
Medicines could carry vCJD
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