Alberta Innovates is investing $1.25 million in research to understand and address the spread of chronic wasting disease found in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal nervous system disease that infects animals such as deer, elk and moose in the wild, and can spread to farmed elk and deer.
The disease is caused by prion proteins in the brain. Prions shed by infected animals through their feces, urine and saliva, which remain infectious in soil for many years, posing a transmission risk to others. There is also concern CWD might be transmissible to other wild animal species and livestock, and to humans who consume infected meat.
Nearly 15 per cent of hunted mule deer in Alberta test positive for CWD and the rate is increasing.
“Alberta Innovates is committed to supporting chronic wasting disease research to mitigate the spread and understand the transmissibility of the disease. Research in vaccine development and spread of the disease is underway to protect wild and domestic animals as a food source, the environment and the agriculture industry,” said Laura Kilcrease, CEO of Alberta Innovates, in a recent statement.
Five projects – three at the University of Alberta and two at the University of Calgary – were chosen from seven proposals submitted to the Alberta Innovates Chronic Wasting Disease Research Program.
Two projects focus on vaccine development to prevent infections, including a vaccine to prevent the potential spread to caribou, an important food source for Indigenous and northern communities.
Three projects will study various aspects of the transmissibility and progression of CWD to look at the rate of spread, whether CWD prions could bind with vegetation and contaminate animal forage and Alberta crops, and if CWD can spread to other species.
“The aggressive rate of transmission of CWD poses the risk that this disease could soon grow to levels where deer populations will significantly decline and CWD is introduced into new geographical regions, including the ranges of Alberta’s at-risk woodland caribou herds,” said Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.
Alberta Innovates is the province’s largest and Canada’s first provincial research and innovation agency.