University of Saskatchewan

September 17, 2014   

U of S researchers to study impact of chronic wasting disease in the wild, develop an effective oral vaccine for deer, elk

July 13, 2011

The funding is being provided by PrioNet Canada, a Network of Centres of Excellence, in an effort to address the socioeconomic and health-related impacts posed by prion diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease), CWD, as well as other neurodegenerative disorders, and to accelerate discoveries in these areas.

Dr. Scott Napper, a research scientist with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, has been awarded funding to develop an oral vaccine – one that will attract consumption by elk and deer and can withstand extreme temperatures – to help stop the spread of CWD in the wild. Similar oral vaccines are already used to control rabies in Eastern Canada, where food packets containing the vaccine are widely distributed for consumption by fox and raccoon populations. Dr. Napper is leading this project in collaboration with nine other researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and University of British Columbia, in partnership with PREVENT, the Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise.

“The danger is that CWD continues to spread with the potential to generate new strains and infect new host species,” notes Dr. Napper. “At the moment we don’t have a way to effectively control the spread of CWD in the wild which is why the development of an oral vaccine is incredibly important.”

Dr. Ryan Brook, Assistant Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan – working with six researchers across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – has received funding to examine transmission of CWD between white-tailed deer and elk. Using an extensive database of information collected from radio collars, researchers will determine where the elk and deer populations are located across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and look at the potential for overlap between the two species. Their work is crucial to ongoing monitoring of CWD in Canada.

“Our aim is to better understand the overlap in habitat, diet and range between elk and white-tailed deer, and the associated transmission and environmental contamination of CWD,” said Dr. Brook, adding that the overall goal is to mitigate the widespread impacts of CWD on animals and humans.

The two Saskatoon-based research projects are among 11 across Canada included in PrioNet’s recent infusion of $2.9 million to support 55 researchers across Canada on their ongoing prion-related studies. Prion diseases are fatal, infectious and transmissible diseases of humans and animals associated with a ‘sponge-like’ degeneration of brain tissue. In animals, the most common prion diseases include BSE, scrapie in sheep and goats, and CWD in deer and elk. From 2000 to 2004, the Canadian government spent approximately $40 million to try to eradicate CWD from its farmed elk and white-tailed deer; however these measures failed as the disease had already spread to wild populations where it continues to be an ongoing threat.

About PrioNet Canada (
One of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence, PrioNet Canada is a pan-Canadian research network that is developing strategies to help solve the food, health safety, and socioeconomic problems associated with prion diseases. The network brings together academia, industry, and public sector partners through its multidisciplinary research projects, training programs, events, and commercialization activities to help derive maximum socioeconomic benefits for Canadians. PrioNet is hosted by the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute in Vancouver.

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