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Creighton Gets Grant to Continue Study on Prion Diseases

Creighton Gets Grant to Continue Study on Prion Diseases

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Creighton University a $1.4 million grant to continue its study of prions, a protein malformation believed to be involved in chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease that is killing wild and captive deer and elk in western Nebraska and elsewhere.

Prions are also involved in what is commonly referred to as mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The five-year award was made to Anthony Kincaid, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and an associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. In 2007, Kincaid and Jason Bartz, Ph.D., a Creighton virologist and an associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine, were the first to report that prion disease in laboratory animals could be spread by inhalation of the agent into the nasal cavity.

The new grant will allow Kincaid and Bartz to continue their groundbreaking work.

“All animals that get this infection in the wild have well-developed olfactory systems, and their nasal cavity is often exposed to environmental elements that may contain prions,” said Kincaid, principal investigator for the original study. “We think it is a direct route of infection in animals in the wild.”

Until the Creighton study, most researchers had focused on ingestion as the main route for animals getting the infection. However, the study by Kincaid and Bartz, which involved hamsters, suggested the nasal cavity is a much more efficient route for spreading prion disease.

To date, no one has studied the nasal route in deer or elk, but sheep have been shown to be susceptible to disease following nasal-cavity exposure.

Chronic wasting disease is always fatal and causes death following extensive damage to the central nervous system. First discovered in Colorado in the late 1960s, CWD has spread and has now been reported in deer and elk as well as moose in 14 states and two Canadian provinces, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.