Advancing the fight to reduce the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease

May 31, 2021
deer head

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease that affects cervids, including deer, elk, and moose found in the wild and within deer farms across North America. This prion disease is a fatal neurological illness, which produces small lesions in an animal’s brain and ultimately results in abnormal behavior, weight loss, loss of bodily functions, and death. Recent data has identified CWD strains, which can infect a variety of mammals and can cause human prions to misfold as well (in cell culture).

In 2018, VBS Assistant Professor Peter Larsen joined the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences through the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension, and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) program at the University of Minnesota. One year later, Larsen, along with the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) CWD Research Team, began the quest to tackle CWD by addressing Minnesota state lawmakers to get funding to address faster CWD diagnostic testing in deer, with the goal of reducing its spread and eventually eradicating the disease. Previous testing took up to 14 days for results. They were successful in receiving funding from the state of Minnesota.

In 2021, they are one step closer to their end goal. Larsen in addition to VPM Professor Tiffany Wolf, and researchers with the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO) team have invented a novel approach to field testing CWD. The team confirmed their findings in southeast Minnesota in early March, 2021, by using their new test named, MN-QuIC. “MN-QuIC uses nanoparticles to identify CWD prions in tissue samples. It is the product of an intense multi-disciplinary research effort that united scientists across the University of Minnesota,” Larsen says. The UMN researchers are the first-ever scientists to successfully deploy a simplified CWD field test, that provides results within 24 hours. Larsen adds, “We have performed over one hundred confirmatory tests in our MNPRO lab and this was our first field-deployment. We will continue to validate MN-QuIC over the coming months and plan additional field deployments this fall.” The team has also filed a provisional patent on MN-QuIC. The aim is to develop a test that is made available to individual testing-stations state-wide and nationally. This research was supported by the MN Agricultural Experiment Station Rapid Ag Response Fund and the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Source:University of Minnesota researchers develop novel, field deployable test for CWD.”

Presently, MNPRO Co-directors Larsen and Wolf, along with VBS Assistant Professor Roxanne Larsen, and VBS researchers Marc Schwabenlander and Gage Rowden, are heading up the MNPRO CVM CWD team to assist the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a forensic investigation to determine whether or not deer carcasses have been infected with CWD from a deer farm in northern Minnesota. The DNR advised the team to fence off a 10-acre area around the dump site to check for CWD positive remains to be safe. Unfortunately after collecting the remains of 10-12 carcasses and implementing the RT-QuIC technology, which is a highly-sensitive assay that can be used to identify CWD prions in dear remains and the environment, they found atleast one deer carcass had tested positive for CWD. They are the first team to use forensics research approach to identify CWD within carcass remains. Source: UMN Press Release and "Infected deer farm, dumping pose threat to northern Minnesota's deer population," by Tony Kennedy with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In addition to making strides in testing, Larsen, along with Veterinary Clinical Sciences Associate Professor Davis Seelig, received funding from the Rapid Agricultural Response fund at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station to examine the knowledge gap to potential risks to meat processors, deer hunters, and venison consumers. And more specifically, determining the CWD prion burden and its infectivity in venison meat and on meat processing equipment. The primary goal is to be able to directly address best practices to reduce or prevent the introduction of CWD into the human food chain. Source:Newly funded: Measuring chronic wasting disease in venison.”

The University of Minnesota Foundation has created a Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO) fund. This fund supports the research and outreach efforts of the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach MNPRO, which brings together UMN faculty and external collaborators with expertise to address prion diseases, animal health, cellular biology, nanotechnology, and infectious disease. For a full list of VBS funding opportunities, please visit the Give to VBS page on the VBS website.