U of M launches Chronic Wasting Disease Program to address potential health crisis

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The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota announced today that it has launched the Chronic Wasting Disease Response, Research and Policy Program (CWD Program) to respond to this wildlife disease crisis and its potential for animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission.

CWD is a prion disease that affects several cervid species: deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. It has been found in some areas of North America, including three provinces in Canada and at least 26 states. Although CWD has not yet been found to cause infections in humans, numerous health agencies advise that people should not be consuming CWD-positive animals.

“We believe it is possible that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of CWD-contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” said Michael T. Osterholm, University of Minnesota Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, and director of CIDRAP. “There is an immediate and critical need for national leadership on addressing CWD, and the CWD Program establishes the University of Minnesota as both the national and international resource for CWD response, research, education and policy.”

The CWD Program will focus on:

  • providing coordinated and proactive national leadership with government agencies and others that identifies and defines priority policy, prevention, research and community outreach issues associated with CWD in animals and its potential for animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission;
  • educating the public, particularly hunters, the medical and public health communities, wildlife scientists and managers, public policymakers and elected officials about the potential risk of human CWD infection;
  • promoting extensive, reliable and rapid CWD prion detection tests for killed cervids before the deer are processed or consumed;
  • conducting primary prevention research on limiting the potential transmission of the CWD prion to humans and between animal species.

The CWD Program is made possible with support from the University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Vice President for Academic Clinical Affairs.

“I’m delighted that Dr. Osterholm has moved nimbly to expand CIDRAP’s impressive public-health scope of coverage to encompass the emerging research and policy concerns associated with Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Chris Cramer, vice president for research. “This effort will provide a critical foundation that will inform broader work on CWD on our campuses—including a University-wide task force to be launched this spring—in our state and region, and throughout North America.”

“CIDRAP's ability to respond to the potential health crisis of CWD and help Minnesotans safely enjoy their love of the outdoors and hunting—both a tradition and a sport for so many—is integral to our mission as a land-grant University and our service to the state,” said Jakub Tolar, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs.

The University Task Force on CWD, led by Associate Vice President for Research Michael Oakes, will address the full range of diagnostic, clinical and public-health challenges associated with CWD, connecting with potential external partners and leveraging the considerable relevant strengths across its campuses and colleges in biology, wildlife ecology, veterinary medicine and zoonotic disease, public health, and medicine, as well as expertise in public policy and economics.

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About the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy is a global leader in addressing public health preparedness and emerging infectious disease response. Founded in 2001, CIDRAP is part of the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota.

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University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
03/20/2019