Prion project to assess risk of game meat consumption

An international project with European participation investigating the transmission risk of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) on humans will receive EUR3.5 million from the Alberta Prion Research
Institute (APRI) in Canada. At European level, the study that will involve testing on primates as well as alternative models will be coordinated by the German Primate Centre (DPZ) in
Göttingen.

Like BSE or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects deer, elk and moose. It is caused by proteinaceous infectious particles
(prions), infectious agents composed only of protein. Up to 15% of game in North America has already been infected.

Game meat is an important branch of the economy in Canada. Hence, consumers of Canadian game meat products might be at risk of contracting CWD if humans are susceptible.

In the framework of the project entitled ‘Comprehensive risk assessment of Chronic Wasting Disease transmission of humans using non-human primates’, researchers will first extract the prion and
then test its effects on primates when either ingested or transmitted in other ways.

‘This research is relevant because there are various infection paths – either by eating infected game or by coming into contact with the infectious agent when slaughtering game,’ Dr Michael
Schwibbe from DPZ told CORDIS News. Moreover, the disease might spread to other animals that are part of the human food chain such as sheep.

General project coordination will be in the hands of the Lethbridge Laboratory at the University of Calgary, Canada. Further participants include the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in
Hamilton, USA, and – in addition to the DPZ – the German Robert Koch Institute, the Technical University of Munich, the neuropathology department of the University Hospital
Göttingen and the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

Dr Schwibbe is sure that the University of Calgary has chosen the right partners, particularly when selecting the DPZ: ‘The DPZ is the only institute to have gathered experience in this area.
We were the obvious choice.’

Indeed, the Primate Centre has been involved in comparable research projects funded by the European Union, such as a study investigating BSE transmission through food and blood products. Like
the new study, which is intended to start in 2008, this project examines the infectiousness of TSEs – more specifically the bovine form BSE – for humans by testing on a primate species the
infectious dose in contaminated food.

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