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CWD TSE Prion Strains everything in Texas is bigger, better, and badder

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    CWD TSE Prion Strains everything in Texas is bigger, better, and badder

    SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2019

    Chronic Wasting Disease TSE Prion Strains everything in Texas is bigger, better, and badder

    The disease devastating deer herds may also threaten human health

    Scientists are exploring the origins of chronic wasting disease before it becomes truly catastrophic.

    Rae Ellen Bichell

    Image credit: David Parsons/Istock

    April 8, 2019

    Wagner and Zabel have suggested a possible answer: Perhaps, they say, there is not just one chronic wasting disease, but rather a bunch of different strains of it. And those different strains could be emerging at different times across the globe.

    One day in late February, in their laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, Wagner and Zabel compared the prions from the brains of CWD-infected deer in Texas with those of elk in Colorado. They want to know if the proteins were all mangled in the same way, or not. “If they are different, this would suggest that we have different strain properties, which is evidence as we're building our case that we might have multiple strains of CWD circulating in the U.S.,” says Wagner.

    Step one is to see if they’re equally easy to destroy using a chemical called guanidine. The shape of a prion dictates everything, including the way it interacts with an animal’s cells and the ease with which chemicals can unfold it.

    “Moment of truth,” said Wagner, as she and Zabel huddled around a computer, waiting for results to come through. When they did, Zabel was surprised.

    “Wow,” he said. “Unlike anything we've seen before.”

    The prions from the Texas deer were a lot harder to destroy than the ones from the Colorado elk. In fact, the guanidine barely damaged them at all. “We’ve never seen that before in any prion strain, which means that it has a completely different structure than we've ever seen before,” says Zabel. And that suggests that it might be a very different kind of chronic wasting disease. The researchers ran the same test on another Texas deer, with the same results.

    Now, these are only the preliminary results from a few animals. Wagner and Zabel have a lot more experiments to do. But if future tests come to the same conclusion, it would support their hypothesis that there are multiple strains of chronic wasting disease out there, all with different origins. That, in turn, could mean that this disease will become even trickier to manage than it already is.

    And, Zabel adds, there’s something else. “If it's still evolving, it may still evolve into a form that could potentially, eventually affect humans,” he says.

    Zabel is not the only one worried about that possibility.

    OSTERHOLM, THE EPIDEMIOLOGIST from Minnesota, is also concerned. He directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and is serving a one-year stint as a “Science Envoy for Health Security” with the U.S. State Department. In February, he told Minnesota lawmakers that when it comes to chronic wasting disease, we are playing with fire. “You are going to hear from people that this is not going to be a problem other than a game farm issue. You're going to hear from people that it's not going to transmit to people, and I hope they're right, but I wouldn't bet on it,” he said. “And if we lose this one and haven’t done all we can do, we will pay a price.”

    If that wasn’t warning enough, he added: “Just remember what happened in England.”

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    kind regards, terry