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CWD field project earns $900k grant

Three-year project to develop faster method to test for chronic wasting disease.

Four scientists closely connected to the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) were awarded $916,023 for their three-year project that focuses on the screening and diagnosis of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer.

The project, “CWD: Field Animal-Side Testing and Improving Laboratory Diagnostic Sensitivity,” is funded jointly by Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

According to the CVM announcement, current technology used for CWD screening and diagnosis is slow and sometimes less sensitive; it’s based on detection of prion protein aggregates using an antibody. The testing also takes place in a laboratory, which means it is labor-intensive.

For the project, CVM researchers Srinand Sreevatsan, Kelly Straka, Rachel Reams and Steve Bolin will investigate a different technology called RT-QuIC as a faster and more accurate testing method.

“We have a unique opportunity to use the experience of the DNR and [Michigan State University] on the biology of CWD and in test development as well as access to samples and current ‘gold standard tests’ to create a new solution for CWD screening and testing,” said Reams, director of the Michigan State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

“CWD is a prion disease, which means misfolded host proteins lead to neurological damage,” explained Sreevatsan, CVM professor and associate dean of research and graduate studies. “Instead of using a test based on detection of protease-resistant prions using antibodies like [enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay], we are going to use RT-QuIC to amplify the misfolded protein in suspect tissue samples. This will offer us better detection and sensitivity in real time as misfolded proteins accumulate.”

Another aspect of this study is to detect biomarkers that accumulate in blood (as a result of neurological damage) as a screening test in the field, CVM said. This approach would facilitate deer screening in the field for the neuronal proteins. That means testing will be fast and easy for captive deer farmers and wild deer hunters, and only deer triggering positive for potential brain damage would be sent to the laboratory for RT-QuIC testing.

This is especially important because clinical signs of CWD don’t present until the later stages of the disease, after the infected deer has had plenty of opportunity to spread the disease to other animals and throughout the environment, according to the announcement. The new protocol would encourage testing to protect animal health as well as provide faster data for health officials and natural resource protection agencies to help slow the spread of CWD throughout the environment.

“This is a conservation effort,” Sreevatsan said. “We want to protect our environment and the animals who live in it as well as the tradition of hunting.”

During the first year of their project, the scientists will develop RT-QuIC and investigate specific biomarkers that indicate CWD. They will use these results to develop a rapid field test to detect CWD in free-ranging and hunted deer during the second and third years of the project.

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