All French public laboratories have decided to suspend their work on prions for a period of three months, after a former laboratory employee contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), as reported. a joint press release published Tuesday July 27.
The decision was taken jointly by the management of several scientific research centers and state bodies (Anses, CEA, CNRS, Inrae, Inserm) with the support of the Ministry of Research and in the name of the precautionary principle. She is motivated by “The knowledge of a possible new case of a person suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and who worked in a research laboratory on prions”. The uncertainty in this case is based on the origin of the disease.
Prions are what are called “unconventional transmissible agents” (UTAs). Not endowed with genetic material, the prion is neither a bacterium nor a virus, but a pathological protein. CJD, one of the prion diseases more commonly known as mad cow disease, is rare and characterized by rapid and fatal degeneration of the central nervous system. It can be of sporadic origin (its most frequent form, occurring randomly), of genetic origin, or of infectious origin, following contamination.
A “culture of risk management”
In this case, the person with CJD is a retired staff member of the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. The period of suspension of laboratory work should make it possible to establish a possible link between his disease and his former activity, and if necessary to adapt the preventive measures in force in the laboratories, according to the press release.
If this link were true, it would be the second such accident for someone who worked on prions. An assistant engineer who was injured in 2010 during an experiment died of the disease in 2019. In 2020, a study by New England Journal of Medicine, based on his case, had found a potential causal link between this incident and his illness.
An inspection mission carried out by the ministries of research and agriculture concluded in October 2020 that laboratories were complied with with regulatory obligations and that a “Risk control culture”, according to the press release.