UK researchers have developed the first ever reliable blood test for the human version of CJD.
The diagnosis and screening of the fatal brain illness could be transformed by the discovery, which also identifies carriers.
Scientists believe it could also give them their first real chance of accurately assessing how many Britons are incubating the disease.
The new blood test is the first of its kind to successfully detect Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (VCJD), which is the human equivalent of cattle disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
VCJD was identified in the 1990s when the disease was linked to the consumption of contaminated beef products.
The disease creates a number of holes in the brain, leading to mental problems, reduced body functions and eventually death.
People can harbour the infectious proteins - called prions - for years with no symptoms and pass the disease on by donating blood or undergoing surgery. There is currently no cure for the illness.
Until now there has been no way of telling for sure if someone has the disease other than examining their brain tissue.
The prototype blood test developed by scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) is 100,000 times more sensitive than any studied before.
Details of the research appeared in The Lancet medical journal.
Copyright © Press Association 2011
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