- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - The
Food and Drug Administration will commission two studies to assess the
human health risk of chronic wasting disease (CWD), part of a comprehensive
effort to combat the spread of the disease in deer and elk herds across
the country, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced
- Overall, the Health and Human Services (HHS) department
has proposed spending more than $29.2 million in fiscal year 2003 to expand
research efforts to fight the growing threat of prion diseases, including
chronic wasting disease among the nation's deer and elk populations.
- Chronic wasting disease is one form of a group of fatal
brain diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs.
These diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy - BSE or mad cow
disease in cattle - scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
- The hallmark of TSE disease is accumulation in the brain
of abnormal prion proteins - misshapen versions of the normal prion proteins
found on the surface of brain cells. There is no evidence that CWD has
caused illness in humans.
- "We must determine whether CWD is a threat to our
food supply and how best to stop the spread of this disease in our deer
and elk herds," Thompson said. "We will aggressively pursue innovative
methods to expand research and direct assistance to states to fight the
spread of CWD."
- Scientists do not know yet whether deer or elk with chronic
wasting disease might also transmit some form of TSE disease to people
who eat or have close contact with them. With the disease beginning to
spread over a wider geographical area in the United States, answering this
question is of critical public health importance, Thompson said.
- Chronic wasting disease is known to affect free ranging
deer and elk in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin and New Mexico.
States that have or have had farmed elk herds with the disease are South
Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Montana.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will commission
a formal risk assessment regarding the present potential human health consequences
of chronic wasting disease and another on CWD transmissibility.
- The studies will identify areas were data gaps exist
and where research efforts should be focused to reduce the potential threat
to health posed by chronic wasting disease.
- The FDA studies are being commissioned as the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) has intensified its efforts to understand and
fight this disease. Recently, a component of NIH, the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), awarded a seven year, $8.4
million contract to Colorado State University to establish an emerging
disease research center focused on chronic wasting disease.
- Scientists at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories in
Hamilton, Montana, have initiated studies aimed at developing new therapies
against chronic wasting disease. Researchers there plan experiments to
determine whether the disease can be transmitted from deer or elk to monkeys,
another model for assessing the potential for human transmission.
- Recently, Rocky Mountain Lab scientists established that
another TSE disease, hamster scrapie, could jump species - adapting to
and causing disease in mice.
- RML scientists have designed transgenic mice to make
studying chronic wasting disease faster and less expensive. These mice
carry the prion proteins of deer and elk, so their bodies react to the
disease as a deer or elk would. Scientists will study the disease in these
mice rather than in the larger animals, which are much more expensive and
labor intensive to keep.
- NIH has budgeted an estimated $24.3 million for TSE research
in fiscal year 2002 and has requested $26.4 million in fiscal year 2003
- an 8.7 percent increase. Secretary Thompson called on Congress to move
quickly to approve the HHS budget for fiscal year 2003, which began October
- "At a time when this devastating disease is harming
deer and elk herds throughout America, we must do all we can to provide
additional resources to research and combat CWD," Secretary Thompson
said. "This is groundbreaking research that will have tangible implications
for hunters and farmers."
- The new Colorado research center in Ft. Collins, headed
by veterinarian Dr. Edward Hoover, will investigate the mechanics of chronic
wasting disease infection in deer and elk, especially in the immune system's
lymphoid tissues. Such studies underlie the search for improved diagnostics
- Scientists at the Ft. Collins center will work on a possible
vaccine to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.
- Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002. All Rights