What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a very rare illness, with only about 50 new cases per year in the UK. It gradually destroys neurons throughout the brain. Many of the early symptoms of CJD are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease – loss of memory and personality changes. As CJD progresses, patients gradually lose all control of their minds and bodies.
Do we understand CJD?
The effect of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is so devastating that it eventually makes the brain look like a sponge: fine networks of fibres replace many of the cells. For this reason, CJD and related illnesses are also known as 'spongy brain diseases'. Many scientists believe that these diseases are caused by prions: agents made entirely out of protein (unlike bacteria and viruses, which also have genes). Infectious prions that cause CJD are variants of normal brain prion proteins. There is no cure for CJD.
What is 'new variant' CJD?
There is mounting evidence that a small number of people have contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after eating beef infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or 'mad cow disease'. This 'new variant' CJD seems to affect younger people. Recent studies indicate that it causes changes in the brain that are more similar to BSE than other forms of CJD.