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Animal Health

Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer and Elk

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk is one disease in a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans. TSEs are noted for the formation of small holes in the brain that cause neurological symptoms and eventually lead to death. TSEs are thought to be caused by a disease agent known as a prion, which is different from viral or bacterial infectious agents. Little is known about the prion and how TSEs like CWD are spread.

NIFA funds research to discover how CWD is spread and how to detect it in deer and elk populations, what the threat is to domestic cattle, and how people can improve and use emerging diagnostic laboratory test kits for CWD.

In Fiscal Year 2002, the National Research Initiative (NRI) Competitive Grants Program awarded $250,000 to Case Western Reserve University to better understand the molecular and biochemical properties of infectious CWD agent so that potential strain variations might be identified.  Approximately $100,000 was used in the Program for Economically Important Infectious Animal Diseases at Colorado State University from the Special Research Grants Program to compare accuracy and validate emerging diagnostic laboratory test kits for CWD.  The University of Florida is using Hatch Act formula funds for surveillance of the disease in white-tailed deer.  These projects continued through Fiscal Year 2003. 

Projects starting in Fiscal Year 2003 included Hatch Act formula grants at the University of Illinois focusing on the environmental persistence of CWD agent and studies at the University of Wisconsin focusing on achieving a better understanding of the ecology of white-tailed deer in agro-forest ecosystems as it affects the potential for CWD control.  Special Research Grant projects focusing on CWD include $232,180 at the University of Wyoming studying free-ranging western white-tailed deer regarding epidemiology, transmission, and potential environmental contamination issues along with continued Special Research Grant funding of $80,000 at Colorado State University to further refine diagnostic test capabilities. 

Beginning late in Fiscal Year 2003, USDA/NIFA Integrated Activities funding (Critical Issues - Plant and Animal Diseases) is supporting at $125,000 a joint effort with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Colorado State University to determine the association of genetics and micronutrient levels in captive and free-ranging normal and CWD-infected Rocky Mountain elk.  From this same funding program, $93,875 was provided to the University of Wyoming in Fiscal Year 2001 to determine if CWD could be transmitted to cattle.  The NIFA NRI continues to request and willingly accepts research proposals related to CWD from scientists at all state and federal levels for competitive peer review evaluation and funding.

There are many CWD project examples in NIFA.


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