New Vaccine Partially Protects Against Prion-Caused Disease in Deer

Researchers at the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center and elsewhere say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans. The study, which was published online in Vaccine on December 21, 2014, documents a scientific milestone: the first successful vaccination of deer against chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disorder caused by unusual infectious proteins known as prions. Prions propagate by converting otherwise healthy proteins into a disease state. Equally important, the researchers say, this study may hold promise against human diseases suspected to be caused by prion infections, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, kuru, familial insomnia, and variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. Some studies have also associated prion-like infections with Alzheimer's disease. “Now that we have found that preventing prion infection is possible in animals, it's likely feasible in humans as well," says senior study investigator and neurologist Thomas Wisniewski, M.D., a professor at NYU Langone. CWD afflicts as much as 100 percent of North America's captive deer population, as well as large numbers of other cervids that populate the plains and forests of the Northern Hemisphere, including wild deer, elk, caribou, and moose. There is growing concern among scientists that CWD could possibly spread to livestock in the same regions, especially cattle, a major life stream for the U.S. economy, in much the same manner that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, another prion-based infection, spread through the United Kingdom almost two decades ago. According to Dr.
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