Mad cow disease research in Calgary gets funding boost

The federal government is contributing almost $3 million to support the work of four new research chairs at the University of Calgary, including Sabine Gilch who is looking for new treatments for mad cow disease.

University of Calgary has 4 new Canada Research chairs

University of Calgary researcher Sabine Glich is researching new treatments for mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The federal government is contributing almost $3 million to support the work of four new research chairs at the University of Calgary.

One of the recipients is Sabine Gilch from veterinary medicine whose focus is on prion diseases — a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders in animals and humans. 

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease is a main part of her research.

"It is now 10 years ago the first BSE-infected cow was diagnosed here, and this finding cost huge economical loss to Alberta and to Canada," she said.  

"Today, BSE seems to be under control, but now cases of chronic wasting disease are on the rise also in Alberta." 

Chronic wasting disease affects deer, elk and moose in the province. Like BSE, it is caused by infectious proteins called prions that infect the brain and spinal cord of the animals.

Although the diseases are incurable, Gilch wants to find new treatment methods.

"This is what we are working on, by getting more insight into basic cellular events, we want to get new targets for treatment," she said.

Gilch says a solution is needed to stop the disease's unpredictable spread among animals and she now has funding for her research.

"It enables me to follow my passion for science and it brings me one step closer to my goal of becoming an international leader in my field of research," she said.

With files from CBC's Kyle Bakx

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