Deer at sunset.

MN Impact: Researchers developing rapid-test to help stop CWD in its tracks

May 26, 2020

Issue

More than 70 deer have tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Minnesota since it was first detected in 2002. While still rare in MN, its potential spread is a constant worry for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who control the state’s $1 billion annual deer-hunting industry. CWD is a death sentence for the animals that contract it as there’s no cure and no vaccine for this brain disease.

What has been done

University of Minnesota researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine have been collaborating to help stop CWD in its tracks for over a decade and have been exploring potential public safety concerns poised by the disease as it has spread throughout the state. But their efforts have been hampered because CWD prions can persist in the environment for years by binding to soil and being absorbed by plants before infecting other deer. Monitoring and predicting their spread is nearly impossible as the only way to confirm CWD is by killing the animal and sending samples out for expensive tests that take days or weeks to complete.

To help combat this issue, a team of University researchers are working to develop a rapid, accessible test that would work not only on live animals but also, soil, meat processing equipment, feces, blood and samples from other animals—thus helping to shed light on where CWD is going, not just where it has been.   

Results

To date, the research team and their collaborators have developed RT-QuIC technology that will facilitate several exciting research avenues. With this technology, the team analyzed tissue samples from CWD-positive white-tailed deer and got a confirmation of protein-misfolding within nine hours. The next step will be to confirm that RT-QuIC testing can correctly identify positive samples from about 500 deer provided by the DNR.

A rapid, field-based test would revolutionize efforts to control this contagious and deadly neurodegenerative disease. In the meantime, University researchers are working closely with Extension and the DNR on a public information campaign to help inform Minnesota’s diverse hunter community of current policies and risks associated with CWD.