As public interest in bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) grows in the United States, strict controls on who is allowed to study it could needlessly slow US research on the disease, contend some prion scientists. That's because as part of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act that recently took effect, BSE prions are considered “select agents” that require special security arrangements, including background checks on anyone who may have access to this material in the lab.

The measure, which calls for similar precautions on handling some 80 other select agents, is one of an increasing number of safeguards intended to keep potentially dangerous biological materials out of terrorist hands. However, the background checks and inspections necessary have slowed down certification of labs.

And Richard Johnson, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins who coauthored a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on prion research in the United States, said that the regulations...

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