Five public research French institutions introduced a 3-month moratorium on the analysis of prions – a type of infectious proteins that lead to fatal brain diseases, when a retired lab worker who managed at work got diagnosed with the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (also known as CJD), the most widespread prion disease in humans.
An analysis is being carried out to discover if the patient, who worked at a lab of the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), got ill with the disease on the job.
If that is true, it will mark the second such case in France over the past few years.
In June 2019, an INRAE lab worker called Émilie Jaumain died at the young age of 33, a decade after pricking her thumb during an experiment with prion-infected mice.
Currently, her family is suing INRAE for manslaughter and endangering her life during work.
Her situation already led to increased safety measures in French prion labs.
The target of the moratorium, which impacted a total of nine labs, is to “study the possibility of a link with the [latest patient’s] ex-professional activity and, if necessary to adapt safety measures in research mediums,” a joint press release of five institutions says.
Ronald Melki, a structural biologist of a prion lab operated by the French CNRS and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, said:
“This is the right way to go in the circumstances […] It is always wise to ask questions about the whole working process when something goes wrong.”
He also explained that the diseases that affected his fellow colleagues clearly impact the entire prion community, which counts less than 1000 people across the globe.