June 18, 2024

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Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33

Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33



Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33

In 2021, five French public research institutions announced a halt to prion virus research and initiated an investigation to determine if anyone else had been infected with the prion virus in the laboratory. Over the past decade, there have been at least 17 prion virus-related experimental safety incidents in French laboratories, with two of them confirming prion virus infections.

The previous prion virus infection incident occurred in 2010 when Émilie Jaumain, who was just 24 years old at the time, was working in the Molecular Virology and Immunology Department of the French National Institute for Agricultural Food and Environmental Research (INRNE).

On May 31, like any other day, she was using a low-temperature incubator to prepare brain slices from sheep infected with mad cow disease for her research. While cleaning the equipment, she accidentally pricked her left thumb with the forceps she was using, even though she was wearing two layers of latex gloves. Her thumb was pierced, and it started bleeding.

Immediately after the accident, she became concerned because the forceps that pierced her thumb likely carried the prion virus responsible for mad cow disease. This prion virus can infect humans through wounds, and there is no vaccine or treatment available. Once infected, it is generally fatal.

 

Émilie Jaumain, source: Science.org

 

More critically, prion virus infections have an average incubation period of about 10 years before symptoms manifest. This means that if an infection occurred, she would have to wait for the onset of symptoms over the next decade.

Tragically, in June 2019, during the ninth year after the laboratory accident, Émilie Jaumain passed away at the age of 33 due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) caused by the prion virus infection.

In July 2020, a detailed analysis of Émilie Jaumain’s infection was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), concluding that there was no doubt she had been infected with the prion virus in the laboratory, leading to her death.

Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33

According to the NEJM article, 7.5 years after the accident in November 2017, Émilie Jaumain began experiencing burning sensations in her right shoulder and neck, which gradually worsened and spread to her entire right side over the next six months. In January 2019, she started experiencing depression and anxiety, along with memory issues and hallucinations. In mid-March 2019, she was diagnosed with probable variant CJD (vCJD), and in June 2019, Émilie Jaumain passed away. Autopsy confirmed that she indeed had vCJD and died as a result.

The article points out that Émilie Jaumain’s autopsy revealed that her 129th codon for prion protein encoded methionine, which matched the altered prion virus used in her experiments at the time, as opposed to the prion protein associated with classical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prevalent in Europe. Since 2000, cases of variant CJD (vCJD) have become exceedingly rare in France and throughout Europe. Therefore, the NEJM article unequivocally states that Émilie Jaumain was infected with the prion virus in the laboratory, leading to her death.

CJD can be classified into classical CJD and variant CJD (vCJD), which can only be distinguished through post-mortem examination of brain tissue.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until two years after Émilie Jaumain’s death that the French National Institute for Agricultural Food and Environmental Research (INRNE) acknowledged her death was related to the laboratory infection.

In their lawsuit against the institute, Émilie Jaumain’s family stated that she had not received proper training on handling the dangerous prion virus in the laboratory. She was not informed about the necessity of using both metal mesh and rubber gloves simultaneously, nor was she told that in case of exposure, the wound should be immediately soaked in a bleach solution. These essential training measures were neglected, ultimately leading to the tragic incident.

Furthermore, a government-organized investigation revealed that in the past decade, there were at least 17 prion virus-related incidents in France, with five individuals accidentally pricking or cutting their fingers with contaminated syringes or blades.

In 2005, a technician from the same laboratory as Émilie Jaumain had a prion virus experiment-related finger prick incident, but it did not receive enough attention, and no measures were taken to prevent such incidents from recurring.

Unfortunately, in recent times, another researcher in the French National Institute for Agricultural Food and Environmental Research (INRNE) was infected with the prion virus in the laboratory. This infected individual has not shown any symptoms as of now.

In 2011, a study published in PLoS Pathogens revealed that prion virus could be transmitted via aerosols. However, this study did not receive much attention. This study further emphasizes the need for updated safety measures in prion virus research.

Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33


About the Prion Virus

In 1957, American scientist Daniel Gajdusek discovered a peculiar disease among the Fore people, a tribal community in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea.

The Fore people suffered from a disease called kuru, characterized by a long incubation period, early symptoms such as headaches and joint pain, followed by ataxia, tremors, involuntary movements, including dancing, and muscle spasms, and eventually, progressive and severe dementia in the late stages. Patients often died within 3-6 months of onset.

Gajdusek confirmed that this disease was a transmissible infectious disease caused by an unknown pathogenic factor transmitted through the digestive system, primarily due to the Fore people’s cannibalistic practices.

With Gajdusek’s influence, the Fore people abandoned their cannibalistic practices, leading to the eradication of kuru.

 

Gajdusek’s discovery shed light on a new type of pathogenic and transmission mechanism, ultimately earning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976. This pathogenic agent was later identified as the prion virus.

In 1982, Stanley Prusiner successfully isolated the pathogenic factor causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and named it the prion virus. In 1991, Prusiner revealed the pathogenic mechanism of the prion virus, earning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997.

Whether it’s sporadic, genetic, or acquired, and whether it’s classical CJD, fatal familial insomnia, or Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker (GSS) syndrome, all these diseases are caused by a single molecular mechanism. It involves a conformational change of the prion protein (PrP) encoded by the PRNP gene from its native, properly folded form (PrPC) to a self-replicating misfolded form (PrPSc).

It’s important to note that strictly speaking, the prion virus is not a virus because it consists entirely of proteins and does not contain any DNA or RNA.

Laboratory Accident Leads to Death 9 Years Later at the Age of 33

Reference:

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2000687

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020930/

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/france-issues-moratorium-prion-research-after-fatal-brain-disease-strikes-two-lab

(source:internetp8kTR1xaFsli1ihUgrwv9w, reference only)


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