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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
Hope for vCJD cure
vCJD was thought to be irreversible
A Briton believed to be suffering from vCJD has shown remarkable improvement after being given a pioneering drug in the US.

Rachel Forber, 20, had been told by doctors that she could have the human form of mad cow disease.

We had nothing to lose because we were told that Rachel would die

Jane Forber, victim's mother

Miss Forber, from Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, was given just a year to live, confined to a wheelchair and could not recognise her parents as her condition degenerated.

But Nobel Prize winner Professor Stanley Prusiner enrolled her on a new drug trial which has transformed her health.

After just 19 days of treatment, Miss Forber was able to walk unaided, talk, use a knife and fork and complete co-ordination tests which were previously impossible, the Mail on Sunday reported.

First human tests

Miss Forber's mother Jane Taylor said the family had decided to go ahead with the treatment at the University of California School of Medicine as a last resort.

"At the end of the day we had nothing to lose because we were told that Rachel would die and we had everything to gain if this did work," she told Channel 4 News on Sunday.
Scientific research
Scientists have been searching for a cure for vCJD

"What they said was this treatment had only ever been done in test tubes in the laboratory and had never been tried on a human being."

The drug trials will bring hope to sufferers and their families - 99 people have died from the disease since 1996 and seven more suspected sufferers are still alive.

British officials have been in contact with Professor Prusiner's team and said they found the results promising, a Department of Health (DoH) spokesman said.

But he added: "Until the work is published and we have a chance to look at it properly, we cannot comment properly.

It is a bit early to say it is a miracle cure

Department of Health
"It is a bit early to say it is a miracle cure."

In particular, the fact that there is still no reliable test for vCJD which can be carried out on a living person means that doctors cannot even be sure if Rachel Forber had the illness in the first place.

David Body, the solicitor representing vCJD victims and their families, echoed the calls for caution but added: "Anything that is seen to bring an improvement should be welcomed with great enthusiasm.

"It has been ages since there has been any glimmer of hope but there will great caution about being too optimistic."

He added that the treatment would need to be made available in the UK.

Malcolm Tibbett, of the Human BSE Foundation, also urged the need for caution.

He said: "Obviously there is no-one who would be more happy if it did turn out to a treatment for this illness. It gives hope for the future."

Identifying the disease

The DoH spokesman said government work to develop such a test was continuing as rapidly as possible.

"If you are going to treat someone for a disease you need to be sure that they are suffering from it in the first place," he said.

There would be further delays from clinical trials, licensing and manufacturing, he added.

Prof Prusiner, professor of neurology and biochemistry at the university, won the 1997 Nobel prize for medicine for his work on prions - the infectious agents thought to underlie a number of conditions including vCJD.

Human BSE Foundation, Malcolm Tibbett
"We must be cautious"





See also:

16 Jul 00 | Health
School meals link to CJD deaths
15 Jul 00 | Health
CJD scientists probe abattoirs
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