French public research laboratories suspend their work on prions

The general directorates of ANSES, CEA, CNRS, Inrae and Inserm, have decided jointly and in agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation to suspend as conservatory all their research and experimentation relating to prion diseases, for a period of three months“, they reported on July 27, 2021 a joint statement. This decision is motivated by the possible detection of a new case of a person suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This person worked in a laboratory for research on prions , these infectious agents responsible for neurodegenerative disease.

An ill retired INrae agent

The patient concerned is a retired former employee of INRAE ​​(the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment). The three-month suspension period, from July 27, should make it possible to establish or not a link between the state of health of this person and his former professional activity. Prevention measures in French laboratories could also be updated. As the press release reminds us, if the diagnosis is proven “it could be a second case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease infection affecting a scientist who worked on prions, after that of an assistant engineer who died from the disease in 2019, and who was injured in 2010 during an experiment“.

One death in 2010 due to a cut during handling

The young woman, who had worked at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (Inra, now included within INRAE) from 2009 to 2012, died on June 17, 2019 at the age of 33. On May 31, 2010, she cut her finger while handling a sample infected with a specific form of the disease that can be transmitted through blood. After his death, his family filed a complaint for “manslaughter” and “endangering the life of others“against the research institute. The complaint, sent to the Versailles prosecutor’s office, denounced”security breaches“within the research unit in virology and molecular immunology, in Jouy-en-Josas (Yvelines), where the young woman worked.

Following this death, a general inspection mission was launched in July 2019 by the Ministries of Research and Agriculture with French laboratories handling prions. Submitted in October 2020, the report concluded on the regulatory compliance of the laboratories visited as well as the presence of a risk control culture within the research teams.“, defend themselves in their new press release the public research institutions insisting on”the strong public health challenges“research on prions.

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