This is a huge breakthrough, it should be getting front page coverage.
Canadian researchers say levels of a telltale protein in cattle urine may be the path to a BSE test for live cattle.That "post mortem" test? You take a little slice of the cow's brain and look for a pattern of holes which looks a lot like a tea towel that's been shot with 18 gauge birdshot. The slicing and the evaluation take a while, and (I think) if the animal is caught early in the disease progression, the holes might not be obvious.
Scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), working with others from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the University of Manitoba and Germany's Federal Research Institute of Animal Health report that changed levels of this protein indicate the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) with "100 per cent accuracy," albeit in a small sample set.
Changes in the "relative abundance" of a certain set of proteins were also found to correspond with the advancement of the brain-wasting cattle disease, the Winnipeg-based NML said in a release Friday.
"We are hopeful that at some point in the future the knowledge gained from this study will make it possible to test live cattle," said Dr. David Knox, NML scientist and lead researcher on the study, in the release.
Accurate diagnostic BSE tests for live cattle would be a boon for the Canadian beef industry, which currently must remove and dispose of specified risk materials (SRMs) in all slaughter cattle. SRMs include all tissues that are known to harbour the misfolded proteins, or prions, that cause BSE.
Currently, the only reliable testing methods for BSE in cattle are post-mortem.
A live test has evaded scientists for a long time. The protein that causes BSE ("mad cow disease" for the Enquirer readers among us) is tiny, and there isn't a lot of it even when the disease is in full swing, and it's in the brain and spinal cord and inaccessible.
As these things go, BSE is small potatoes, more a fascinating puzzle than a public health hazard. It has probably cropped up in cattle, though very rarely, for millenia, and the chance of acquiring the disease from an affected cow would have been minuscule for those millenia. Only one thing could have made it common enough in cattle for anyone to decide to study it, and that was our fault. Feeding cattle to cattle is about the only way to spread the condition. Supplementing cattle feed with rendered downer cattle protein did a very good job.
Until now, it's been impossible to track BSE until the animals were seriously ill. Now, it appears Canada has made a great jump ahead in studying this obscure, unusual disease, and possibly looking for a cure. Yay us!
 A related human disease, kuru, was transmitted by ceremonial funeral cannibalism, and once this understood the practice, and with it the disease, ended. Two related diseases, scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose, spread much more easily.