Research on prions: an inspection report denounces insufficient safety conditions

Will research on prions be able to resume? The study of these pathogenic proteins has been stopped in France since July 2021, after the discovery of a case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease affecting Pierrette C., a former employee of the National Research Institute for agriculture, food and the environment (Inrae), and the death of Émilie Jaumain, another technician who worked on prions at Inrae.

→ INVESTIGATION. Research on prions, the safety of French laboratories called into question

An interministerial inspection mission was then mandated to shed light on this second contamination, and to trace a path towards improving safety conditions in the laboratories concerned. Published Wednesday, January 26, the inspection report identified two work accidents “by cut”, involving contaminated equipment, including one that occurred in 2005 that may have caused the outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in Pierrette C. , finally died on November 4 at the age of 67.

While work safety conditions have changed significantly over the years, the report notes that this person has spent his entire career without cut-resistant gloves, provided from 2020 after the death of Émilie Jaumain. Numerous testimonies collected by the inspectors also indicate the existence in this research unit of strong pressure and a culture “where the need to gain knowledge has been able to take precedence over other contingencies”.

“A real awareness by the public authorities”

In addition to a good practice guide drawn up by the various research institutes working on prions and aimed at updating and harmonizing safety procedures, the inspection mission issued several recommendations to enable a gradual end to the moratorium. In particular, they provide for the strengthening of the traceability of personnel exposure, the implementation of appropriate medical monitoring and the improvement of training and information for agents.

The report also stresses the need to guarantee the independence of laboratory security officers from their management in order to avoid any interference. In the short and medium term, the mission emphasizes the need to lead a “prion committee” to reflect on security issues on a national scale, and to consider extending these new security measures to research on “prions”. -like”, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, whose mode of onset is comparable.

“We consider that the recommendations made by this report are finally a real awareness by the public authorities of the danger suffered by the agents working on the prion and that they are going in the right direction”, reacts Mand Julien Bensimhon, lawyer for the family of Émilie Jaumain, who indicates that he remains vigilant as to their implementation.


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