Dr. Bastian's Latest Efforts Could Result in New Tests And Vaccines
A major door has been opened to researchers involved in work on Chronic Wasting disease (CWD), Mad Cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
LSU AgCenter animal scientist Frank Bastian has developed a way to grow the bacteria that causes these diseases, which makes it possible to develop tests and vaccines for them.
Chronic wasting disease in deer has been in the news over the past 30 or so years and has been found to be epidemic in several western states and Canada.
CWD is a terminal disease found in elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, moose, red deer and other animals in the cervid family and has been seen in 21 U.S. states, two provinces in Canada and is most likely to continue to spread, Bastian said.
CJD is the human form of these two diseases and is found often undiagnosed in 15 percent of the Alzheimer’s patients.
Bastian, who is a neuropathologist, has spent his career been working on these diseases since 1976, and is excited to know that his work is finally paying off in the form of a procedure that will allow him and others to grow the bacteria and therefore begin working on tests and possible vaccines.
“This is really exciting news because this allows me to work on the bacteria, while other laboratories with access to CWD-affected deer tissues can conduct research also,” he said. “We need more laboratories involved with this approach”.
For years, Bastian has been looking for ways to grow the bacteria in the lab with no success, but his recent breakthrough has microbiologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham interested in joining in the research.
This research will be especially important for hunters because there is currently no way for a hunter to know whether his or her kill is infected with CWD. The animals for the first ten months of infection (incubation period) appear normal then abruptly develop the clinical signs of CWD and die in a few weeks.
“I would like to give hunters a test kit that they can carry in the woods so they can test their kill for presence of the bacteria while they are in the field,” he said. “Hunters need to know whether their kill is infected before they consume the meat.”
Most people infected with CJD are between 40 and 80 years of age and 90 percent of those infected die within a year, and most within a few weeks, Bastian said.
“We should be worried about these diseases, because there is a potential infection reservoir in CWD-infected deer populations,” he said.
Before this new discovery, the bacteria would only grow for about 10 hours, then die. So Bastian changed the medium used and that made the difference. Now he is able to grow 100 percent of the specimens.
“The problem that hunters face in eating potentially infected meat is that heat does not kill this bacteria,” he said. “85 degrees centigrade does not affect it and the bacteria survive up to boiling (100 degrees centigrade). This is significant because E.coli is dead at 80.” Temperature for roasting meat is 70 degrees centigrade (140 degrees Fahrenheit).
The ability to grow the organism makes it possible to generate data that can answer many of the questions that scientists have about these diseases.
At the present there is no cure or treatment for these diseases, but this breakthrough will allow researchers to begin the process of making discoveries for possible treatments and a cure.
“Tetracycline has been used as a treatment for the infection, but it has proven to only slow the activity of the bacteria,” Bastian said.
Bastian believes he is now realistically within a year or two of being able to produce a test that hunters can use to determine whether their kill is infected with CWD.