, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 263-270

Should Deceased Donors be Tested for vCJD?

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Abstract

The 1997 Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy enquiry and the 2001 Hepatitis C litigation judgement set the UK scene for evoking the precautionary principle and the legal precedent that liability for defective transfusion products should not be dependent on medical negligence, but on the mere fact of defectiveness. Animal models indicate that vCJD in humans, with infection via the oral route, is likely to be associated with infectivity within the lymphoreticular system (LRS). This is likely to appear prior to the involvement of the central nervous system and thus infectivity is likely to be present in the LRS before the onset of clinical disease. A number of relevant epidemiological studies using LRS tissue have shown a low, but measurable, existence of the carrier state in vCJD. Two possible cases of transmission of the abnormal prion of vCJD by blood transfusion suggested that tissues might also transmit and that testing of LRS tissue from deceased potential tissue donors should be considered as a first measure towards the prevention of vCJD transmission by tissues designated for use in transplantation. A variety of different tissues could be used as representative of the LRS, but each is associated with problems of feasibility and practicality. Assays for vCJD have not been validated in the context of donor screening rather than epidemiological studies nor on deceased donors. However, given the number of vCJD cases in the UK, significant attention should be paid to the logistical, ethical, social and other issues associated with undertaking vCJD testing of tissue donors, with a view to introducing testing of deceased tissue donors for vCJD disease or latency.