Dr Alan Dickinson is the veterinary geneticist who pioneered the strain-typing of scrapie.


In July, 1996, Mr Justice Morland ruled that the Department of Health was negligent in not heeding the warning of Dr Alan Dickinson

who in 1977 told the Medical Research Council about the risk of contracting CJD from human growth hormone treatment. The judge said it was only natural that those at risk would worry if they suffered any episode such as dizziness or faintness - fearing it was the first symptom of the condition. In his judgment he stressed that the plaintiffs had had to prove that, on the balance of probabilities they had suffered a genuine psychiatric illness caused by becoming aware of the risk of CJD. It was not enough to be upset, distressed or worried by the risk, he said.

"A recurring theme is the sense of betrayal and anger. Each plaintiff trusting their parents who, in turn, had trusted their clinician and had undergone a long period of unpleasant therapy." He added that in most cases the growth hormone treatment had not been necessary but was elective and designed to enhance their enjoyment of life by increasing their stature.

"In many cases they had endured for 10 years or more during childhood twice or thrive weekly injections and reached adulthood with the hope of a normal life ahead of them," he said. The judge added that that hope was dashed when after a number of years they received a letter out of the blue or heard on TV that, for the rest of their lives, they had to live with the awful risk of CJD.


In October 1976 a veterinary scientist, Dr Alan Dickinson of the Agricultural Research Council, who was working on scrapie, telephoned the MRC to alert officials to the risk of transmission of CJD through human growth hormone.

In a letter in February 1977 he made four suggestions to improve the safety of the hormone.

Two were never acted on, a third was only partly implemented, and the fourth - excluding the use of pituitaries from cases with dementia - was not put into force until 1980

. Two virologists, Professor Cedric Mims of Guy's Hospital and Professor Peter Wildy of Cambridge University, were consulted by the MRC, but not until December 1977.

Professor Wildy replied: "Any clinician who uses growth hormone must be made aware of the gruesome possibilities and their imponderable probabilities." But while the scientific steering committee overseeing the manufacture of the hormone were told, the clinicians' committee was "deliberately kept in the dark," the judge said.

Charles Brook, professor of paediatric endocrinology at University College London Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and a member of the clinicians' committee, gave evidence that he had never seen the letters from Dr Dickinson and the two virologists before the trial and he was "appalled" by them.

Further 'Third Way' routes suggested

Following the suggestion by the French agriculture ministry that BSE may be transmitted between cattle through a third route (besides the consumption of infected meat and bone meal, and besides maternal transmission) other scientists have made suggestions as to what that route may be. One suggestion, made by Dr Alan Dickinson, founding director of the Edinburgh Neuropathogenesis Unit, proposed that animals may pick up infections from the soil. 3 Dr Dickinson said his own research showed that cow dung excreted onto grazing land during the height of the BSE epidemic posed a 'real risk' of continued infection. Animals fed infective material will not absorb much of the infectivity, and 'most infectivity, possibly all of it, would pass straight through the gut and excreted onto the pasture,' he said. 'The risk to a cow grazing that pasture might be pretty low, but it is a risk.' 'Anecdotal' evidence has shown that infected sheep herds put onto land that previously held sheep infected with scrapie, will develop cases of scrapie, which is presumed to be due to placental contamination of the pasture. 4 Other possible sources of continued contamination include the practice of spreading abattoir waste from animals under 30 months old as fertiliser on fields (and into landfill sites), with some 300,000 tonnes of cattle blood and gut content being spread annually, although records of the destination fields are not kept. 5 http://www.which.net/campaigns/bse/may00/sc_news.html