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Research on BSE vaccine funded

Development of a BSE vaccine for cattle, and a mathematical study of the risk to people who eat meat from BSE-infected cattle, are up for PrioNet Canada funding, the research network announced Wednesday.

PrioNet Canada, which is funded by the federally-backed Networks of Centres of Excellence Canada, announced $8 million in funding for 19 research projects involving 60 researchers across the country.

The network supports research on various aspects of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy family of diseases, which includes BSE (a.k.a. mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in elk and deer and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.

“PrioNet’s research will bolster the knowledge base required to predict and manage the deadly impacts of prion diseases,” said PrioNet scientific director Neil Cashman of the University of British Columbia in a press release Wednesday.

Among the projects funded are work at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) on a vaccine for cattle against BSE, using Cashman’s finding of an antibody-binding site on the prion — the misshaped protein that causes TSEs to develop in the nervous system.

Andrew Potter will lead VIDO’s research project. PrioNet said a BSE vaccine would not only provide the first preventative treatment against the disease but would save Canada considerable money on its current BSE testing regime and could help lead to other TSE vaccines.

Risk and perceived risk

Funding will also go to two related studies at the University of Ottawa, one using mathematical models and surveys to work out the actual risk of Canadians contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) when exposed to products made from BSE-infected cattle. Daniel Krewski’s team will also look at the probability of human-to-human vCJD transmission through blood transfusions and surgery.

In a related project, an Ottawa team led by Michael Tyshenko will examine the risk of vCJD transmission through transplantation procedures, some of which use artificially grown cells using cattle tissues at high risk of harbouring BSE.

Another study moves from risk to the perception of risk: a team led by Tomas Nilsson at the University of Alberta will examine the level of BSE testing needed to ensure consumer confidence in Canadian food products.

Nilsson’s study aims to use a “farm to fork” strategy to trace confidence along the food chain of animal products, along with assessment of the “political economy,” PrioNet wrote. The study will also look at consumer response related to voluntary and/or mandatory BSE testing, with the goal of better targetiung public policy on BSE.

CWD

Also receiving funding will be Canada’s largest project on CWD in wild deer, in which a University of Saskatchewan team led by Trent Bollinger will develop data on the movement patterns of wild deer, with an eye on the effects of deer culling and feed supplements on the transmission of CWD.

“To date, culling infected herds has been the main practice to help stop the spread of CWD; however, such efforts have not been successful,” PrioNet wrote in its release.

“In addition, the persistent spread of CWD in wild deer leads to increased transmission risks to other species, like moose, or even humans. Particular at-risk groups include hunters, outfitters and aboriginals that may consume CWD-infected wild deer as food.”

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