TUESDAY, Feb. 24, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A never-before-seen nerve disorder triggered by exposure to pig brains might help researchers learn about other autoimmune diseases and what triggers them.
More than a year ago, workers at pork processing plants in two states developed pain, fatigue, weakness, numbness and tingling in their arms and legs. Their common bond: Each worked in or near areas where the brains of pigs were extracted with compressed air, a practice since discontinued.
New research, scheduled to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Seattle in late April, looked at 24 of the affected workers and found that all had improved to some degree by taking immune suppressants, such as steroids, or by simply avoiding further exposure to pig brains. The workers, however, were not symptom-free, and many still had mild pain.
The condition has been identified as a new disorder with an underlying autoimmune basis because all of the workers were found to have a never-before-seen antibody.
"There are other autoimmune disorders where the trigger is not known, so this case with a known trigger could provide us with an opportunity to understand how an antigen can trigger the body's immune system to produce disease," study author Dr. P. James B. Dyck, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a news release from the meeting's sponsor.
The American Association for Clinical Chemistry has more about autoimmune diseases.