In May 2003, a single cow wiped out Canada’s beef and cattle export markets. The first domestic case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or commonly known as mad cow disease) led to thousands of job losses and economic devastation. That’s the story most people remember. What many people aren’t aware of is the scientific story that has been written in our province since that fateful discovery.
The Government of Alberta created the Alberta Prion Research Institute in April 2005 to fund research on BSE and other prion and protein misfolding diseases. The province invested $35 million over seven years and renewed its commitment to prion research in 2012 with an investment of $15 million through March 2015. The scientific capacity that has been built in our province since April 2005 is incredible. Key discoveries about prions, the infectious prion proteins that cause BSE and other diseases, have been made right here in Alberta.
Our funded researchers have made significant contributions to the prion and protein misfolding fields. They have made key findings in the structure and behaviour of prion proteins. They have developed new methods to turn specified risk materials from cattle into products that have potential commercial and industrial applications. They are studying compounds that could ultimately detect, treat or stop the spread of prion diseases in animals and humans. They are looking into methods to decontaminate infectious prion proteins.
Alberta has gone from not having any prion researchers at the time of the 2003 BSE crisis to being internationally recognized as a leading research location in prion and protein misfolding diseases. Today there are dozens of researchers in Alberta studying prions and the diseases they cause. Their innovative research has had an impact on other scientists around the world. Internationally-renowned researchers have taken note of Alberta’s excellence in prion science.
The Alberta Prion Research Institute and the Government of Alberta partnered with Alberta post-secondary institutions and other research funding agencies to build and equip prion research facilities. The University of Alberta has a 27,000 square foot state-of-the-art prion research facility, one of the few research centres in the world that is certified and well-equipped to handle all types of infectious prion proteins, including those that infect humans. A dedicated prion research facility is currently being built at the University of Calgary. When completed, the facility will have significant impacts on the prion research being done in Calgary.
The Alberta Prion Research Institute was borne out of the 2003 BSE crisis. The formation of the Alberta Prion Research Institute has built scientific capacity, created jobs, trained young scientists and led to research discoveries – all right here in Alberta. Today, the Alberta Prion Research Institute is the only research funding agency in North America with a mandate focused on BSE and other prion and prion-like protein misfolding diseases. Alberta has become an epicentre for prion research. Alberta's continued investment in this important work will guarantee that our province has the scientific capacity, the talent and the research labs to continue to make a difference provincially and globally.
BY CINDY LIEU