News Stories

Good News on the Mad Cow Front

Newswise - Mad cow disease is one of the great unspoken fears, becauseAmericans know that the Agriculture Department does notprotect us responsibly. Now there is hope on the horizon. Avaccine that works against the prions that cause the diseasehas been successfully tested in mice. It may be that it willbe possible to vaccinate cattle and other animals againstthe disease, meaning that it will not enter our food chain.

NYU School of Medicine scientists have created the firstactive vaccine that can significantly delay and possiblyprevent the onset of a brain disease in mice that is similarto mad cow. The new findings, published online this week inthe journal Neuroscience, could provide a platform for thedevelopment of a vaccine to prevent fatal brain diseasescaused prions.

Although no cure for these diseases?which include scrapie,mad cow disease, and chronic wasting disease?is on thehorizon, many research groups in both the United States andEurope are working on prion vaccines. But the NYU study isimportant because it breaks new ground in demonstrating thatactive immunization can protect a significant percentage ofanimals from developing symptoms of prion disease, explainsThomas Wisniewski, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Pathology,and Psychiatry, and the lead author of the study.

The prion vaccine developed at NYU would most likely firstbe used to protect livestock, since most prion infectionsoccur in animals and are thought to be transmitted orally,explains Dr. Wisniewski.

Currently, an outbreak of chronic wasting disease isoccurring in some Western states, and the disease'sgeographic range is expanding. Two cases in wild deer haverecently been reported for the first time in New York State,according to the New York State Department of EnvironmentalConservation.

The NYU study is also the first to use a mucosal prionvaccine, given by mouth rather than through the skin, whichlocalizes the initial immune response to the gut and mainlystimulates an antibody response, says Dr. Wisniewski. "Bygiving our vaccine orally, we?re stimulating an immuneresponse mainly in the digestive tract," he explains. "Thus,harmful prions in contaminated food will be destroyed in thegut and will not reach other organs in the body." Becausethe research was conducted in normal mice, the NYUresearchers say it will be easier to apply in animals in thewild, which are at risk for developing prion disease.

Prion disease is contracted when an animal eats the bodyparts of other animals contaminated with prions.

There are no treatments for prion-related diseases, andprions can easily infect the body because they do not elicitany immune response. The vaccine teaches the body torecognize and create an immune response to prions.

The NYU scientists are in the process of redesigning thevaccine for deer and cattle. After choosing the appropriatebacteria for each vaccine, they must genetically modify itto carry the prion protein. "These technical issues are notmajor hurdles," says Dr. Wisniewski. "Developing amarketable vaccine for livestock is something that is veryachievable."

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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