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Sept. 30, 2019

MSU scientists are testing a faster way to detect chronic wasting disease

Michigan State University and Michigan Department of Natural Resources scientists are testing a faster, more accurate way to screen and diagnosis chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in deer. The three-year, $900,000 project, funded by both institutions, will use RT-QuIC, a technology known to have better detection and sensitivity in real time.

The current technology used for CWD screening and diagnosis is slow, sometimes less sensitive and testing must take place in a lab, which can be labor-intensive.

Srinand Sreevatsan, professor and associate dean of research and graduate studies in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Kelly Straka, section supervisor and laboratory scientist for the MDNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory, Rachel Reams, director of the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and Steve Bolin, professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation, will lead the trial.

“We have a unique opportunity to use the experience of the DNR and MSU on the biology of CWD and in test development, as well as access to samples and current ‘gold standard tests’ to create a new solution for CWD screening and testing,” Reams said.

According to Sreevatsan, CWD is a prion disease, which is a family of diseases that starts with an accumulation of abnormally folded proteins in the brain and can lead to neurological damage.

“We are going to use RT-QuIC to amplify the misfolded protein in suspect tissue samples,” Sreevatsan said. “This will offer us better detection and sensitivity as these proteins accumulate.”

Another aspect of this study is to detect biomarkers that accumulate in blood, as a result of neurological damage, as a screening test in the field. This approach would facilitate deer screening in the field for the neuronal proteins. That means testing will be fast and easy for captive deer farmers and wild deer hunters, and only deer triggering positive for potential brain damage would be sent to the laboratory for RT-QuIC testing.

This is especially important because clinical signs of CWD don’t show up until the later stages of the disease – after the infected deer has had plenty of opportunity to spread the disease to other animals. The new protocol would encourage testing to protect animal health, as well as provide faster data for health officials and natural resource protection agencies to help slow the spread of CWD in the environment.

“This is a conservation effort,” Sreevatsan said. “We want to protect our environment and the animals who live in it, as well as the tradition of hunting.”

During the first year of the project, scientists will develop RT-QuIC and investigate the specific biomarkers that indicate CWD. They will use these results to develop a rapid field test to detect CWD in free-ranging and hunted deer during the second and third year.