Technology & Science

$1.6 M in funding announced for brain-wasting disease research

Prairie researchers investigating diseases such as BSE or mad cow disease gained $1.6 million in funding Wednesday.

Prairie researchers investigating diseases such as BSE or CWD gained $1.6 million in funding Wednesday.

Chronic wasting disease or CWD affects ranched elk and wild deer in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Like BSE or mad cow disease, it is caused by infectious proteins called prions that infect the brain and spinal cord of the animals.

The three large-scale projects are based in Alberta and Manitoba and will focus on:

  • Studying the biological, socioeconomic and cultural implications of CWD on people.
  • Controlling the spread of CWD to minimize its potential impact on human and animal health.
  • Understanding how and why prions become infectious and cause disease.

"Although no evidence indicates whether or not CWD is transmissible to humans, it may still have severe socioeconomic consequences for hunters, for those in the tourism and nature industries, and especially for aboriginal communities," Prof. Stéphane McLachlan of the University of Manitoba's environmental conservation lab said in a release.

Aboriginal communities are concerned about contamination and diseases of wildlife. Scientists, wildlife biologists and veterinarians will work with aboriginal communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan to address communications gaps.

Public health Prof. Norman Neumann of the University of Alberta will lead a team investigating when and how animals become contagious.

Probing prions

In the third project, Dr. Valerie Sim of the department of medicine at U of A will lead laboratory and computer simulation researchers to determine how normal prion proteins become misshapen and infectious.

"A better understanding of this protein's role in disease development is critical to develop new treatment approaches and may shed light on how other neurodegenerative syndromes, such as Alzheimer's disease," Sim said.

The federal government's PrioNet Canada and the Alberta Prion Research Institute are providing the funding.

PrioNet was created in 2005 in response to BSE. It is hosted at the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.