The MNPRO team is charged with protecting the rich heritage surrounding cervids—mammals in the deer family—and are united in the fight against chronic wasting disease (CWD).
There are many common and ancient bonds uniting the global human population. Among these are deep and ever-present connections to our natural surroundings. These connections were forged through millennia, and are part of what makes us human—they underlie our diverse cultural heritage.
An ancient bond that encapsulates our rich affinity for the Earth is our connection with deer. Tens of thousands of years in the making, this relationship is the basis for a plethora of traditions across the globe.
But the profound heritage that unites us with cervids is now at risk due to the emergence and relentless spread of CWD. This neuro-degenerative disorder is caused by a misfolded prion, a specific type of protein, and it poses hazards that are far-ranging, not limited to deer health, and capable of permanently altering our relationship with cervids and the world we share.
MNPRO serves as an innovation hub for proteopathic research, uniting a diverse team of multidisciplinary scientists whose mission is to think unconventionally in approaching prion and protein-misfolding diseases (PMDs). We believe this mindset will yield transformative insights into the biology and epidemiology of the spectrum of protein-related disorders.
A wide variety of PMDs negatively impact the health of humans, wildlife, and domesticated animals. These diseases are collectively known as proteopathies, which include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in humans, CWD in deer, and scrapie in sheep. A common feature across the spectrum of PMDs is the inhibition of nervous system function, cascading into neurodegeneration and death. Despite decades of research on human proteopathies, effective diagnostics and therapeutics have yet to be developed.
It is abundantly clear that novel and cutting-edge research must be conducted in order to advance our understanding of PMDs and to develop key innovations that will help to detect and disrupt their progression.
MNPRO is establishing multiple research avenues focused on the environmental component of prion diseases, especially CWD. These avenues include predictive modeling of misfolded prions in watersheds and soils, developing remediation strategies for contaminated regions, and identifying compounds that can inhibit or destroy misfolded prions in a variety of environmental settings.
A critically important feature that unites PMDs is the creation and amplification of infectious molecules that are highly resistant to degradation. These infectious molecules are misfolded prion proteins and their three-dimensional shape essentially shields them from compounds that routinely destroy proteins. The biological production and deposition of misfolded prions in the surrounding environment is of special concern when considering transmission routes of prion diseases including scrapie in sheep, CWD in deer, and even Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans.
A number of independent lines of research have shown that misfolded prions remain infectious in both natural (watersheds and soil) and hospital (contamination of surgical instruments) settings.
MNPRO faculty and staff are working with a range of academic, industrial, and federal institutions to develop novel PMD therapeutics, diagnostics, and remediation strategies. Milestones related to these activities are anticipated to confront the collective economic burden of PMDs.
PMDs represent an increasing threat to the global economy. The PMD spectrum includes age-related forms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS in humans as well as prion diseases such as CWD in cervids. Human PMDs are projected to steadily increase as humans live longer. The global economic burden of Alzheimer’s disease alone is estimated to reach $2 trillion by 2030. Despite these forecasts, effective therapeutics and non-invasive diagnostics for PMDs are lacking.
Although a wildlife disease, CWD poses an imminent threat to the local and national economies of Canada and the United States. CWD has a direct impact on all cervid related economies such as deer hunting, cervid farming, and venison production. Moreover, CWD-causing prions remain infectious in soil for years. These aspects of CWD prions could negatively impact land prices and the sale of agricultural commodities.