Study Links Foie Gras to Rare Disease

CHICAGO ~ A protein found in foie gras can accelerate a potentially deadly disease process known as amyloidosis that occurs in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and tuberculosis, according to a study published this week.

The findings are based on preliminary experiments in mice and suggest for the first time that amyloidosis, like mad cow disease, might be transmissible.

The researchers caution, however, that even if the findings hold true for humans, only people who are at high risk for diseases involving amyloidosis would be susceptible to infection.

“Eating foie gras probably won’t cause a disease in someone who isn’t genetically predisposed to it,” said Alan Solomon, the lead author on the paper, and a specialist in amyloid-related disorders at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine in Knoxville.

But “people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or other amyloid-associated diseases should avoid consuming foie gras and other foods that may be contaminated with fibrils.”

Amyloidosis is a disease process involving the deposit of normal or mutated proteins that have become misfolded. In this unstable state, such proteins form hair-like fibers or fibrils that are deposited into vital organs, like the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas and brain.

This process leads to organ failure and eventually death.

In laboratory experiments, mice that had been genetically modified so they were prone to develop a specific type of amyloidosis were fed amyloid extracted from the foie gras – a delicacy made from the livers of force-fed ducks.

Within eight weeks, a majority of the mice developed extensive amyloid deposits in the liver, spleen, intestine and other organs.

It took eight months for the same level of buildup to be seen in another batch of genetically altered mice that were fed a regular diet, free of foie gras.

The type of amyloid that the investigators found in the foie gras is not the same as the one that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims, said Solomon, a professor of medicine at the university’s school of medicine.

But it remains to be seen whether the AA amyloid found in foie gras could cross seed and trigger the production of these other proteins, he said Solomon.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was a collaborative effort between the Tennessee researchers and colleagues from Linkoping and Uppsala Universities in Sweden.

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