Did you know that, according to the American Red Cross, you are forbidden from donating blood in the United States if you have spent a cumulative time of three months or more in the United Kingdom, from Jan. 1, 1980 through December 31, 1996?
The reason? It stems from the discovery that in some parts of the world, cattle can get an infectious, fatal brain disease called Mad Cow Disease. In these same locations, humans have started to get a new disease called variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, also a fatal brain disease.
All of this relates to the first lecturer in the OHSU Brain Institute’s popular Brain Awareness Season lecture series. The lecture, at 7 p.m. on Monday Feb. 10 at the Newmark Theater in downtown Portland, will be presented by Jean Manson, one of the world’s leading experts on the group of diseases that include Mad Cow Disease.
But first, a few more details on what Mad Cow Disease has to do with humans.
Scientists believe that variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Diseases is Mad Cow Disease that has somehow transferred to humans, possibly through the food chain. There is now evidence from a small number of case reports involving patients and laboratory animal studies that vCJD — as it’s sometimes called — can be transmitted through blood transfusion. There is no test for vCJD in humans that could be used to screen blood donors and to protect the blood supply. This means that blood programs — like the American Red Cross’s — must take special precautions to keep vCJD out of the blood supply by avoiding collections from those who have been where this disease is found.
Which means that the OHSU Brain Institute’s first lecturer — a world renowned expert on this group of diseases — is not allowed to give blood in the United States.
Manson is head of the neurobiology division of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. (The Roslin Institute is where the world’s most famous sheep, Dolly, was cloned.) She is also chair of Neurodegenerative Disease at the University of Edinburgh.
Professor Manson is an internationally recognized research scientist in what are called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs, a group of fatal diseases that affect the brain and nervous system of many animals, including humans. They’re also called prion diseases. Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease are within this group of diseases.
Research into the prion diseases not only tries to advance scientific knowledge into these mysterious diseases. It also has led to research advances in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Manson will be talking about all of that during her lecture. She’ll also talk about the differences in how neuroscientists in the United Kingdom and the United States investigate brain disease.
Although I don’t study prion diseases specifically, my own research focuses on the aging brain and neuroendocrine changes that lead to cognitive impairment in the elderly. So as a neuroscientist, I’m very interested in her work. (We also share the blood-giving problem; like Manson, I can’t give blood in the United States, since I’m originally from the U.K.)
I’m going to be there to listen. It promises to be fascinating.
Henryk Urbanski, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Professor and senior scientist, divisions of Neuroscience and Reproductive & Developmental Sciences, Oregon National Primate Research Center
Professor, Departments of Behavioral Neuroscience and Physiology & Pharmacology, OHSU Brain Institute