Studies Seek to Predict the Spread of a Fatal Prion Disease

Aug 17, 2017

Dr. Eveyln Merrill, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, is working to predict how a fatal prion disease that affects deer, elk and moose spreads.

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), or Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) as it’s commonly referred, belongs to a family of progressive neurodegenerative disorders. The first cases were discovered in Alberta in the mid-2000s by the Saskatchewan border, and research shows that it’s slowly moving west.

With funding in part from Alberta Innovates, she is engaged in two field studies that seek to establish how CWD is most likely transmitted between deer and how the spread might be predicted. This involves tracking individual animals using radio collars and using data to develop a model that can help predict CWD’s spread.

“The collars record when two animals get together,” said Dr. Merrill. “So, we know the type of place where they get together. We know how frequent that is. Over time we can model that as a function of different factors, such as the configuration of the habitat or the amount of river drainage which deer tend to like in winter, as well as the population level of the deer in the area.”

To learn more about Dr. Merrill’s work, listen to this broadcast of Innovation Anthology, hosted by Cheryl Croucher.