HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc216-8W
Andrew George

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if she will make a statement on the research conducted by her Department and its non-departmental public bodies regarding the immunocapillary electrophoresis test; [90036]

(2) what assessment her Department has made of the correlation between the immunocapillary electrophoresis test and other pre-clinical tests; and if she will make a statement. [90286]

(3) what plans her Department has to evaluate the Immunocapillary Electrophoresis (ICE) test in a large surveillance trial; [90840]

(4) what steps her Department is taking to (a) develop and (b) validate the Immunocapillary Electrophoresis test with the European Union; and if she will make a statement. [90841]

Mr. Roger Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (1) how many sheep have been tested by her Department and its non-departmental public bodies using the immunocapillary electrophoresis test; and what proportion of sheep were identified as(a) scrapie-infected and (b) non-scrapie infected, [90035]

(2) if she will make a statement on her policy on the continuation of the application of the immunocapillary electrophoresis test. [90287]

(3) what assessment her Department has made of the use of the immunocapillary electrophoresis test for diagnostic purposes; and what steps she is taking to enable the test to be used throughout the United Kingdom. [90845]

Mr. Morley

[holding answers 15, 16 and 20 January 2003]: DEFRA has commissioned the Veterinary Laboratories Agency to evaluate and further develop the ICE test (Immunocapillary Electrophoresis Test) with a view to its potential use in the pre-clinical diagnosis of BSE and scrapie. Work on this test has also been funded since September 2002 by the EU Commission with EU laboratories and the VLA under the Framework 5 Programme.

The technology has been transferred from the USA and the test is still in the development phase. It has not yet been applied to field samples on a larger scale commercial level. Technical issues have had to be resolved, further improvements are envisaged, and the implementation of field case testing has been delayed by Foot and Mouth Disease.

To date the ICE method has been used on sheep within a controlled scrapie-infected flock. The test has been shown to identify positive animals at certain stages of infection before clinical disease develops. Further work is being done to determine the exact age range in which positive animals can be identified. Scrapie-free animals give negative results with the test. The method therefore shows promise as a diagnostic tool but its use on a wide scale will be determined by the final characteristics of the test, in particular the optimum time for the test to be used to identify TSE positive sheep. Further validation will be required when the final test protocol is defined.

In the absence of other validated confirmatory pre-clinical tests, the results from ICE testing are being correlated with biopsy materials and eventual postmortem confirmation of infection in the tested sheep. Facilities to expand the use of the test for field sampling are in place at the VLA and sample materials have been collected to use in a validated test. The preparatory stages for samples in this test are relatively complex and require several days to process; this may limit the number of samples that can be processed and the scale of use of the test. Currently the ICE method remains the only non-invasive live animal test that has been developed to the potential for identifying TSE-infected sheep or sheep flocks.

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