Canadian researchers will receive $2.9 million to investigate prion diseases such as mad cow and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

PrioNet Canada, a national network of research in prion disease based in Vancouver, announced the funding for 55 different investigators on Wednesday.

The 11 projects involved have a two-fold goal, said Dr. Neil Cashman, scientific director of PrioNet Canada.

 "By working with our partners, we aim to continue to protect Canada against classical prion diseases like chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE), and we're also providing benefit to Canadians through the development of innovative therapeutics to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS," Cashman said in a release.

Prion diseases are fatal, infectious and transmissible in humans and animals and lead to a "sponge-like" degeneration of brain tissue.

In animals, the most common prion diseases include BSE, scrapie in sheep and goats, and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.

The recipients include five scientists at the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto. They are focusing on identifying parts of a misfolded protein in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS with the aim of developing therapies to interrupt the slow progression of paralysis and eventual death in the disorder.

For animals, researchers at the University of Alberta and Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon will look at developing an oral vaccine to control chronic wasting disease in the wild and minimize its impact.

Another team at the University of Victoria-Genome BC Proteomics Centre, the University of Alberta and the University of Western Ontario are working on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind prion diseases.