University of Saskatchewan

September 30, 2014   

$1.2 Million Awarded to University of Saskatchewan Researchers to Help Thwart Devastating Effects of BSE and Chronic Wasting Disease on Animals, People

Dr. Andrew Potter
May 07, 2008

Prepared by: PrioNet Canada

May 7, 2008 – Saskatoon, SK – PrioNet Canada today announced $1.2 million in funding for two teams based at the University of Saskatchewan to help solve the food and health-related threats posed by prion diseases.

The funding is part of a total $8 million injection by PrioNet Canada into 19 different projects across the country that will accelerate discoveries surrounding prion diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly known as mad cow), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, a variant human form of CJD acquired from the consumption of BSE-contaminated cattle products (vCJD), and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk.

“PrioNet’s research will bolster the knowledge base required to predict and manage the deadly impacts of prion diseases,” explains PrioNet Scientific Director Dr. Neil Cashman. “Ultimately, these projects will translate to safer food, health, and environmental systems for Canadians.”

Prion diseases are untreatable, infectious, and fatal neurodegenerative diseases. Normal prion proteins are found on the surface of the cells of both humans and animals. Prion diseases occur when the normal prion protein is misshapen into the infectious disease-causing form, called prions. Research is still trying to determine exactly how the misshaping occurs. Prions represent a new class of infectious agents that cause disease because unlike other viruses or bacteria, prions do not contain any DNA or RNA.

The economic crisis resulting from the May 2003 discovery of a Canadian BSE-infected cow spurred a very important research area, explains Dr. Cashman. PrioNet Canada, established in 2005 through the Federal Government’s Networks of Centres of Excellence program, was created in response to this crisis. Today, PrioNet is the largest group in Canada working to mitigate the negative impacts of BSE and other prion diseases on society. PrioNet’s initiatives have helped position Canada as a world leader in prion disease research.

“Through research, PrioNet is helping to shed light on these devastating but mysterious diseases,” said Dr. Suzanne Fortier, Chair of the Networks of Centres of Excellence Steering Committee and President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “This is just one example of how the NCE program is supporting the government’s vision of a healthier, more prosperous and more competitive Canada through science and technology.”

Examples of the two projects based out of the University of Saskatchewan being funded by PrioNet Canada include:

• The development of a BSE vaccine for cattle to ensure that Canadian herds are protected against BSE. This project is led by Dr. Andrew Potter from the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) based at the University of Saskatchewan. Not only would this vaccine provide the first preventative treatment against BSE, but also considerable cost savings to Canada as current BSE-testing regimes are expensive and cumbersome. Furthermore, this research may lead to vaccines that will aid in the prevention of other prion diseases.

• Canada’s largest project on CWD in wild deer aims to create a strategy to minimize the spread 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. 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. Led by Dr. Trent Bollinger and his team at the University of Saskatchewan, this study will provide key data on movement patterns of wild deer in the environment. They will evaluate the effects that deer culling and the presence of feed supplements have on the transmission of CWD in wild deer. This project, also supported by the Government of Saskatchewan, includes study areas in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, the only two provinces to date that have been impacted by CWD in wild deer. This information will help shape policy and wildlife management strategies to reduce the incidence and spread of CWD.

The balance of projects across the country that PrioNet is supporting will help solve remaining scientific unknowns of prions and prion diseases. Research projects from a variety of disciplines, such as genetics and computer simulations, are required to shed light on these mysterious disorders.

PrioNet Canada, by working together with its partners, is seeking research results that will mitigate, and ultimately eradicate, prion diseases ensuring safe food and health systems for humans and animals in Canada.

About PrioNet Canada:
PrioNet Canada ( is an innovative pan-Canadian network that capitalizes on fundamental, applied, and social research to develop strategies to mitigate, and ultimately eradicate, the impacts of prion diseases. PrioNet funds multidisciplinary research, provides training opportunities, facilitates the transfer of research results, and promotes knowledge exchange activities. PrioNet is hosted by the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute in Vancouver, BC.

About the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program:
PrioNet Canada is made possible through funding from the Networks of Centres of Excellence Canada program (, a joint initiative of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and Industry Canada. It is an innovative program of that brings together researchers, industry, and government working to provide social and economic benefits for all Canadians.

For more information, please contact:
Gail Bergman or Indira Tarachandra Gail Bergman PR
Tel: (905) 886-1340 or (905) 886-4091

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