Shedding light on the impact of prions on animals and prions

Feb 6, 2018

Through the Alberta Prion Research Institute, Alberta Innovates is funding research on prion and protein misfolding diseases such as chronic wasting disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Research is related to protein structure, environmental contamination, possible transfer to other species, vaccinations and decontamination of prions. The innovative research being done in our province has resulted in Alberta being a world leader in prion and protein misfolding diseases research.

Alberta Innovates and the Alberta Prion Research Institute have partnered with Jay Ingram, former host of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks and Discovery Channel Canada’s Daily Planet, since 2012 to host public lectures on prion and protein misfolding diseases. The lectures are an excellent way to meet with Albertans to keep people informed about the world-class research Alberta Innovates is supporting and the importance of funding basic and applied research.

Chronic Wasting Disease

In November 2017, the Alberta Prion Research Institute hosted lectures in Stettler, Canmore and Jasper to talk to Albertans about the impacts of animal prion diseases with a focus on chronic wasting disease, which affects deer, elk, moose and reindeer. The disease was first detected in Colorado in 1967 and has since spread to 23 US states, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It has also been found in the wild in Norway and in imported cases in South Korea.

Chronic wasting disease is a growing concern because of the rate at which it is spreading. The disease is different from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in two important ways: chronic wasting disease is found in animals that roam in the wild, and prions are found in most parts of the animal and in fluids unlike in BSE where prions are in contained parts of the cow. These two differences are contributing to the spread of the disease because prions are extremely difficult to kill.

Alzheimer’s

The Alberta Prion Research Institute partnered with the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories in January 2018 to co-host lectures on Alzheimer’s disease research in Yellowknife, Spruce Grove and Okotoks. Recent evidence suggests that prion diseases can inform research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The two funding agencies have invested over $4.2 million to co-fund 26 projects on Alzheimer’s disease research since 2012.

Some feedback from the audience

“I’m encouraged that the public are educated by presentations such as these.”

“Continue lectures and awareness especially as new info and hopefully new drugs are discovered.”

“Very good delivery by the presenters. The Q&A is vital because questions led to areas not in main presentation.”

“Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge on this very important subject.”

“Great event” Not enough people are aware on how much the disease is currently and in the future overwhelms our healthcare system.”

“An excellent lecture – clear and informative. Thank you!”

Some comments from the presenters

“In the specific case of Alzheimer’s, it’s important for everyone to understand it a bit better, to be aware of where we stand vis-a-vis this disease. Is help on the way, and if so, where is it coming from? When might it arrive? The research is moving really fast, failures of many new drugs have led to rethinking what an Alzheimer’s drug would actually do. Everyone knows someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s also good to know something about Alzheimer’s.”  Jay Ingram

“Most people hear about science/research discoveries through the media, which highlights only part of the work, effort and relevance of the ongoing work. By understanding how “science really works”, people are more likely to understand the need to support ongoing research and that “cures” will not be just around the corner unless we support basic sciences.” Valerie Sim, University of Alberta

“I like doing these lectures because I get to talk with Albertans about important research and what will really help them” Robert Sutherland, University of Lethbridge

“Prion science is complicated yet it has a vast array of direct impacts on the public and as scientists we have an obligation to educate the public about the consequences of these impacts.” Tim McAllister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

“This is a chance to connect with the kind of people I like: not necessarily learned in science, but curious about it. Some already have strong points of view, some have specific interests but the diversity of the crowd makes the question and answer period the best part of the night. People dive right in.” Jay Ingram

“The lectures are an excellent chance to interact with the public and gain an appreciation for their perspective on the topic. They also help me tune my communications skills and identify new areas of concern or priority to ensure that the research we do is aligned with the publics wants and expectations.” Tim McAllister

“I love helping people understand the science and make them feel like they can ask any questions without being intimidated. I like giving a human face to science.” Valerie Sim