FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State Univ. researchers are working to develop and evaluate a more sensitive test for chronic wasting disease (CWD) – including the potential to test for infection in live animals, animal products and the environment. This project is being funded by Denver-based Morris Animal Foundation.

Affecting deer, moose and elk, CWD is related to similar diseases in cattle and sheep. It is a primary concern for hunters and wildlife ranchers and now affects wildlife in 19 states, two Canadian provinces and one Asian country.

Prions are known to be rogue proteins that cause the family of diseases that include CWD. The diseases are known as spongiform encephalopathies. Although this Morris Animal Foundation-funded study would be the first in step in many toward the development of a new test, it will look at a method that shows promise in detecting a wider array of prions at lower levels than are currently detected.

The research into the potential test may allow detection of CWD prions in live animals, animal products and the environment.

“Developing this test may eventually lead to a more rapid and sensitive to test for CWD,” said Dr. Ed Hoover, a Colorado State Univ. veterinarian and researcher with 30 years of experience in researching infectious diseases of animals. “But, just as significantly, it may lead to a substantial gain in our understanding of how prions spread, survive in natural habitats, and impact animal and public health.”

The test is being researched in collaboration with Dr. Byron Caughey at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, Mont. Caughey’s laboratory developed the strategy for the study. Hoover, Caughey and colleagues will focus first on determining if their proposed test detects prions in body fluids with greater sensitivity, accuracy and faster output than is currently possible.

It is unknown why an infectious prion from one species, such as deer or elk, can “jump” to infect another species, and the potential risk to other species such as cattle, or even humans, is uncertain.