Nav: Home

CSU uses test for chronic wasting disease to study brain ailments in people

December 12, 2016

Wildlife disease experts at Colorado State University are investigating whether a test developed to detect early-stage chronic wasting disease in deer might also be used to identify the onset of brain disorders, including concussion-related trauma, in people.

In a sign of its potential significance, the research is funded with a $850,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The agency hopes to find better ways to detect and prevent concussion-related brain injuries, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in U.S. soldiers exposed to munitions blasts in the field.

Prion diseases similar to malfunction in human conditions

Such use of a diagnostic test designed for deer is possible because CWD is in a family of neurodegenerative ailments called prion diseases, characterized by protein misfolding that triggers a cascade of ultimately fatal brain damage. Protein misfolding in prion diseases is strikingly similar to cellular malfunction that occurs in human neurological conditions including concussion, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, said University Distinguished Professor Edward Hoover, who works in the CSU Infectious Disease Research and Response Network.

"In the last five years, there's been an interest in applying this new technology to other neurological diseases," Davin Henderson, a researcher in the Hoover Laboratory, explained. "Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is similar to prion disease."

CTE, a degenerative disease likely caused by head trauma, has gained significant attention in recent years because of brain injuries among military veterans and dozens of former National Football League players and other athletes.

The CSU team is collaborating on the study with the Center for Cognitive Neurology at New York University's Langone Medical Center, which will provide tissue samples from patients with dementia who donated these tissues to science.

CSU excels in prion research realm

Alan Rudolph, CSU vice president for research, said the new project represents what the university's scientists do best. "The research being conducted out of the Hoover Lab, in conjunction with NYU, highlights CSU's expertise with prion and amyloid disease research," he said. "It demonstrates how CSU is translating important discoveries in animal science for human application in innovative ways."

CSU is renowned for its research breakthroughs on chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose: CWD was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome of mule deer - and as a prion disorder - at CSU research facilities. CSU Professor Terry Spraker also first discovered chronic wasting disease in a captive research herd of elk in Colorado in the 1970s.

The Hoover research team, in CSU's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, is leveraging prion expertise to better understand human neurological conditions characterized by protein misfolding. In addition to CWD, prion diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, in cattle; scrapie in sheep; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Protein misfolding is like a zombie story

Prions are "misfolded versions of a normal protein we all have," said Hoover, who has overseen CWD research for the last 13 years.

"When this protein minds its own business, it is innocuous to us, and it performs tasks we don't fully understand," he explained. "It's very rich in the brain. But when it misfolds, it coerces or seduces normal proteins to misfold as well, so that leads to an amplification, which spreads in the tissue. Those misfolded proteins somehow damage the nerve cells in the brain, so that gradually, one develops dementia."

It's like a zombie story, Hoover added.

The test that detects CWD at very low levels in the urine, saliva or feces of deer, elk and moose may also be used to detect one of several misfolded proteins found in people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, traumatic brain injury and other similar diseases, Henderson said.

Researchers and clinicians are also interested in learning more about the connection between traumatic brain injury and short-term and long-term disorders resulting from concussion.

"We believe that traumatic brain injury causes something to be put into play in the brain that leads to the loss of brain cells over time," Henderson said.

Detecting the progression of these human neurological diseases is key to treating them. "If you can't tell that someone's sick until they have symptoms, it may be too late" to provide an effective treatment, Henderson said.

Colorado State University

Related Traumatic Brain Injury Articles:

New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
Studies uncover long-term effects of traumatic brain injury
Doctors are beginning to get answers to the question that every parent whose child has had a traumatic brain injury wants to know: What will my child be like 10 years from now?
People with traumatic brain injury approximately 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated
People who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are approximately 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated in a federal correctional facility in Canada than people who have not, a new study has found.
Traumatic brain injury associated with long-term psychosocial outcomes
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) during youth is associated with elevated risks of impaired adult functioning, according to a longitudinal study published in PLOS Medicine.
Curbing the life-long effects of traumatic brain injury
A fall down the stairs, a car crash, a sports injury or an explosive blast can all cause traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Is traumatic brain injury associated with late-life neurodegenerative conditions?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) with loss of consciousness was not associated with late-life mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease or dementia but it appeared to be associated with increased risk for other neurodegenerative and neuropathologic findings, according to a new article published online by JAMA Neurology.
Link found between traumatic brain injury and Parkinson's, but not Alzheimer's
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a loss of consciousness (LOC) may be associated with later development of Parkinson's disease but not Alzheimer's disease or incident dementia.
Novel peptide protects cognitive function after mild traumatic brain injury
Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have shown that a single dose of a new molecule can protect the brain from inflammation and cognitive impairments following mild traumatic brain injury.
Allen Institute releases powerful new data on the aging brain and traumatic brain injury
The Allen Institute for Brain Science has announced major updates to its online resources available at, including a new resource on Aging, Dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury in collaboration with UW Medicine researchers at the University of Washington, and Group Health.
Developing tools to screen traumatic brain injury therapies
University of Houston biologist Amy Sater will be developing a model for studying traumatic brain injury, thanks to a two-year, $386,000 grant from the Robert J.

Related Traumatic Brain Injury Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...