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Species Barrier Protects Macaques From Chronic Wasting Disease

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2009-07-30 10:48

Data from an ongoing multi-year study suggest that people who consume deer and elk with chronic wasting disease (CWD) may be protected from infection by an inability of the CWD infectious agent to spread to people.

The results to date show that 14 cynomolgus macaques exposed orally or intracerebrally to CWD remain healthy and symptom free after more than six years of observation, though the direct relevance to people is not definitive and remains under study. Cynomolgus macaques often are used as research models of human disease because they are very close genetically to humans and are susceptible to several forms of human brain-damaging disease. Thus, it was decided to see whether exposure to CWD could induce disease in the macaques. The study appears online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

CWD is a type of brain-damaging disease known as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) or prion disease. CWD primarily affects deer, elk, and moose. Other TSE diseases include mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. Humans are not susceptible to sheep scrapie, but BSE appears to have infected about 200 people, primarily in Europe in the 1990s. Those findings provided the rationale for the present CWD-macaque study, which began in 2003.

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"We plan to continue this study for at least several more years because, although the risk to macaques so far appears to be low, we know that these diseases can take more than 10 years to develop," says Bruce Chesebro, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Mont. RML is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The RML group is leading the study with collaborators from the Colorado Division of Wildlife; State University of New York Downstate Medical Center; New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities; American Red Cross; and the University of Wyoming.

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